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Larry Litt

Arendt – Heidegger A Love Story

By Douglas Lackey
Directed by Alexander Harrington
Theater for the New City
155 First Avenue NYC

Reviewed October 4, 2018 by Larry Litt

Perhaps it's because they're proper Germans or perhaps because they're academic philosophers but neither Hannah Arendt nor Martin Heidegger seem capable of loving passion in playwright Douglas Lackey's new play "Arendt – Heidegger: A Love Story." I'm inclined to the latter. I know Germans mostly through literature and films. For all their angst and longing for love they have a knack for ending up unloved and lonely at best or in pitifully disastrous suicidal relationships at worst. At least it makes good literature.

This play begins in the frantic years of the Nazis rise to power in post-WWI Germany. The romance between Arendt, played with often sympathetic political nagging by Alyssa Simon, and Heidegger could have been a good platform for explaining Nazism and its educated supporters. For me the status of dramatic tension between characters is a prime point for an evening's theater. Joris Stuyck's Martin Heidegger is a calculating academic who is already known to be a Nazi sympathizer. Like a man brushing flecks of lint off his clothes, he feels no guilt after destroying the careers and lives of his university peers. Enter Arendt into his life, a brilliant, Jewish, beautiful young woman student. It's hard to tell if she fell for or is seduced by Heidegger's reputation. Potential moments of tension never take flight. Their attraction is expressed through intellectual repartee. Love between May and December is an eternal philosophic topic. Here we're just given the facts.

Alyssa Simon, Alexandra O'Daly, Joris Stuyck. Photo by Rina Kopalla.

The dramatic peak was achieved by Alexandra O'Daly as Frau Elfride Heidegger. Hannah enters the Heiddegger home shocking Elfride who emphatically declares what she feels about their affair, exposes her anti-semitism and declares her personal support for the Nazis. Compared to Hannah's and Martin's polite discussions O'Daly shows some German courage.

Arendt's friend Ernst Cassirer is brought to life by Stan Buturla as a gentle yet strong advisor who understands Hannah's contempt for Nazis while she is in love with one of their chief intellectual heroes. How is this contradiction going to end? It's not as simple as ‘love conquers all.' Hannah is sent to an interment camp and becomes an anti-Nazi, anti-fascist intellectual leader. Her books deal with the ease with which gullible people seeking a political entertainment grasp onto unrealities and political leaders who lead them into disaster.

Stabs are made at comparing our present gross Trumpism to the pre-Nazi Weimar world. It's too early to tell where our world is going to end. "Arendt – Heidegger" may be one of the historical signposts to which we might pay some attention. I think so. Look at the versions of reality we're bombarded with. If you try to find explanations in theater it's there. It always was, is and always will be. [Litt]

See other NYTW coverage of this show by Beate Hein Bennett and Edward Rubin.


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