Mary Kathryn Kopp, Kaitlin Paige Longoria, & Hallie Griffin in Hitler’s Tasters
TEATRON 2021: A Festival of Jewish Theatre
Selections from the festival
A review by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2021 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
Louisville based Bunbury Theatre and ShPIeL-Performing Identity of Chicago and Louisville have again collaborated, this time on a collection of filmed material originating from various sources and gathered together as TEATRON 2021: A Festival of Jewish Theatre.
The Festival was structured into four evenings: Holocaust Theatre, Women & Spirituality, Black & Jewish Allyship, and a night of Stand-Up Comedy. Here are some reactions to just two pieces.
By Michelle Kholos Brooks, directed by Sarah Norris
The broader waves of history are well-studied, and Adolf Hitler and the rise of the Third Reich seem an inexhaustible subject, but some of the most provocative and insightful stories can be found in the overlooked margins. Those young women were pressed into service to taste der Führer’s food to verify its safety before he himself dined is in itself a curious but somewhat mundane fact, but Michelle Kholos Brooks uses it as an entry point for investigating the unquestionable risk and misbegotten honor of loyalty to a monster.
Liesl (Hallie Griffin), Hilda (Mary Kathryn Kopp), and Anna (Kaitlin Paige Longoria) enter dancing to very modern music, establishing the anachronistic position that seems crucial to the playwright’s concept, for these young women carry cell phones and speak in the shallow voices we know from a thousand insipid teen comedies. It is several minutes in before the absurd situation is revealed; that each meal they share is followed by an anxious hour that, if none fall ill, gives Hitler permission to dine. Liesl is a sound bridge between the status-conscious Hilda and the naive and trusting Anna as they argue and explore politics, sexuality, and a twisted infatuation with the man they protect.
The scenes are broken up by more music, dance, and ritual movement, and one of the women is replaced by Margot (Hannah Mae Sturges), a small, dark-haired spark plug for the remainder of the action.
The contemporary perspective invites us to consider many things, including the potential culpability of benign activity. There is vanity, conceit, and trite obsession witty how they may benefit from their perilous duty, but little understanding that could lead to questioning why so many try so earnestly to assassinate their precious leader.
The stark and spare production contains four adroit performances. Kopp forcefully commits to a role that invites little thanks or identification, Griffin embraces the plain countenance and dedication that hold the group together, and Sturges navigates the new kid dynamic with mischievous humor. Best of all was Longoria, who beautifully presented Anna as the vital, conflicted center of the play. It is in her that the illusory device of teen glibness falls away to expose the beating heart of the story.
Jumpin’ Jim Crow
By Chance Bennett, directed by Baron Kelly
How does a writer create a Black woman character full of justifiable rage without falling into the trap of the Angry Black Woman stereotype? Chance Bennett embraces the moment and presents a woman in a jail cell after being arrested during a peaceful protest. As her angry tirade builds, the specificity and familiarity of her words ground the character in the reality of the last 16 months. She recounts a litany of injustice up to and including being arrested when there were white protestors on either side of her. Kala Ross’s performance here is supple, with alternating notes of humor, confessional, and fury. In the course of the play, she changes her appearance in small but crucial ways that break the character down and expose different facets of the woman who is defined by more than her arrest.
Jumpin’ Jim Crow is vivid and concise in the writing and performance, and economical and focused study of a highly charged time in one person’s life that could have easily been overdone. Ross’s rage is tempered by an actor’s discipline and we are forced to question old and tired assumptions.
Also included was The Bunbury Theatre production of Imagining Heschel, which was reviewed here in November 2020.
TEATRON 2021: A Festival of Jewish Theatre
Available On Demand June 24-27, 2021
ShPlel Performing Identity &
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX 97.1 FM / ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music, and visual arts. His work has appeared in LEO Weekly, Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.