Review: Hitler on the Roof (Akvavit Theatre)

| June 27, 2017

Amy Gorelow stars as Dr. Joseph Goebbels in Hitler on the Roof by Rhea Leman at Akvavit Theatre           
      

  

Hitler on the Roof
   
Written by Rhea Leman   
at Strawdog Theatre, 1802 W. Berenice (map)
thru July 9  |  tix: $25  |  more info
       
Check for half-price tickets   
     


    
  

Darkly funny and disturbingly prescient

  

Jay Torrence and Amy Gorelow star as Leni Riefenstahl and Dr. Joseph Goebbels in Hitler on the Roof, Akvavit

    
Akvavit Theatre presents
    
Hitler on the Roof

Review by Lauren Whalen

At this time, the United States is in a political climate both unique, and not so unique. It’s certainly different to have a former reality show star as the Commander in Chief. However, corruption, prejudice and propaganda? Sadly, in world politics and history, all are par for the course. Akvavit Theatre’s Hitler on the Roof, a piece for two clowns by Danish playwright, takes place in a basement purgatory and features two prominent players in Amy Gorelow and Jay Torrence star as Dr. Joseph Goebbels and Leni Riefenstahl in Hitler on the RoofAdolf Hitler’s reign of terror. And yet it’s startlingly, almost scarily relevant to the American climate of “fake news,” questionable leadership and seemingly endless hopelessness. Hitler on the Roof is certainly not for everyone, but for many of us, this politics-as-art piece is exactly what we need to see.

Akvavit Theatre has a unique mission statement of “seeking the universal through the voices of contemporary Nordic playwrights.” Written by native New Yorker Rhea Leman, who now lives and works in Denmark, Hitler on the Roof was initially a response to the 2011 rise in Danish nationalism. Taking to heart the old chestnut “those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it,” Hitler on the Roof features two characters: famed Nazi propagandist Dr. Joseph Goebbels (Amy Gorelow) and filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl (Jay Torrence), best known for the 1935 Nazi propaganda film “Triumph of the Will”. Both are relegated to a dank basement in the afterlife, in order to face their past sins against humanity. Goebbels is an outspoken, bawdy, over-the-top German, while Riefenstahl is a quieter, seductive, borderline Hitler groupie until placed on the payroll. What happens when the two come together? Can they ever feel and express true remorse?

Amy Gorelow and Jay Torrence star as Dr. Joseph Goebbels and Leni Riefenstahl in Hitler on the Roof at Akvavit Theatre Amy Gorelow and Jay Torrence star as Dr. Joseph Goebbels and Leni Riefenstahl in Hitler on the Roof, Akvavit TheatreAmy Gorelow and Jay Torrence star as Dr. Joseph Goebbels and Leni Riefenstahl in Hitler on the Roof by Rhea Leman

Hitler on the Roof is, according to its press release, “a play for two clowns.” Directors Kirstin Franklin and Amber Robinson, along with choreographer Susan Fay and violence designer Rick Gilbert, create a stunning mural of physical theater where the action is darkly beautiful and the stage picture constantly changing. Leman’s script is a little uneven – the first half of the play is basically a Goebbels one-man show, which begins to wear thin, before Riefenstahl comes on the scene. Though the script strikes an excellent balance of gallows humor, outright silliness and psychological drama, it’s also feels about ten minutes too long, though Franklin and Robinson do what they can to pick up the pace. Sound designer Nigel Harsch incorporates old-timey music in a way that’s creepy but not cliché, and set designer Chad Eric Bergman repurposes the new Strawdog Theatre space in Ravenswood (previously the home of Signal Ensemble Theatre) to resemble a rotting cellar chock-full of objects representing former glory.

Both actors are skilled at physical theater and clowning, as well as gender play that’s at once over-the-top and respectful. Torrence is the slightly stronger performer: his Riefenstahl is cunning and sexual, magnetic and poisonously sweet. Gorelow’s German dialect occasionally grates on the nerves, but she holds her own with a strong sense of the character, who believed Germany is king up until the very end. Hitler on the Roof’s original production was a smash hit in Denmark, touring the country for two years and generating a prestigious award for its leading actress. Akvavit Theatre’s production may not have the same impact stateside, but I’m glad it’s here: plays like this are both unconventional and a grim reminder of what we need to know.

  
Rating: ★★★
  

Hitler on the Roof continues through July 9th at Location, address (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sundays 4pm.  Tickets are $25 (students/seniors: $15), and are available by phone (800-838-3006) or online through BrownPaperTickets.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at ChicagoNordic.org(Running time: 95 minutes, no intermission)

Amy Gorelow stars as Dr. Joseph Goebbels in Hitler on the Roof by Rhea Leman, Akvavit Theatre

Photos by Karl Clifton-Soderstrom


  

artists

cast

Amy Gorelow (Dr. Joseph Goebbels), Jay Torrence (Leni Riefenstahl).

behind the scenes

Kirstin Franklin (co-director, co-artistic director), Amber Robinson (co-director), Chad Eric Bergman (set design), Piper Hubbell Robinson (costume design), Emma Deane (lighting design), Nigel Harsch (sound designer), Letitia Guillaud (properties design), Susan Fay (choreography), Rick Gilbert (violence design), Sammy Grant (dialect coach), Madelyn Loehr (production manager), Mark Litwicki (technical director), Bernadette Hagen (technician), Margaret Bystrek (stage manager), Karl Clifton-Soderstrom (photos)

Amy Gorelow stars as Dr. Joseph Goebbels in Hitler on the Roof by Rhea Leman at Akvavit Theatre

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Category: 2017 Reviews, Akvavit Theatre, Lauren Whalen, Strawdog Theatre, Video, YouTube

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