Off-Broadway Theater Review: GANESH VERSUS THE THIRD REICH (Public Theater)

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by Sarah Taylor Ellis on January 16, 2013

in Theater-New York,Tours

BACK TO BACK BRINGS ISSUES TO THE FRONT

The concept for Ganesh versus the Third Reich is staggering: the Indian god Ganesh travels through Nazi Germany to confront Adolf Hitler and reclaim the ancient Hindu symbol of the swastika.

Sarah Taylor Ellis’ Stage and Cinema review of Back to Back’s GANESH VERSUS THE THIRD REICHThis fantastical imagined history confronts the shifting meaning of signs and questions of cultural appropriation, particularly through a metatheatrical layer about the theater company that decides to stage this contentious story. As the director (portrayed by Luke Ryan) and actors (Mark Deans, Simon Laherty, Scott Price, and Brian Tilley) delve into the play, the ensemble begins to question the representations they are performing on stage. Can a non-Jew portray concentration camp refugee, for instance? Who would dare tackle the hated role of Hitler? How would a hypothetical audience respond to representations of a culture and religion not their own? Is this story is even theirs to tell?

Sarah Taylor Ellis’ Stage and Cinema review of Back to Back’s GANESH VERSUS THE THIRD REICHThis complexly layered piece would be remarkable enough, but add to this the fact that Back to Back Theatre is an Australian ensemble of actors with disabilities. Individuals with disabilities are often unrepresented or misrepresented on stage and in the media – perceived to be freaks of nature and “degenerative” humans, as Dr. Mengele suggests in the play-within-the-play. Just as the elephant-headed lord of obstacles Ganesh aims to reclaim a Hindu symbol, then, Back to Back Theatre seeks to reclaim the representation of disability on stage.

The metatheatrical layer of Ganesh versus the Third Reich may be full of heavy-handed questions, but the play within the play complicates the audience’s notions of disability with the sheer force of performance and theatricality. I actually wish Ganesh had lingered longer in the play within a play, where the actors do not play “actors with disabilities,” but assume powerful roles such as the booming god Ganesh, the Fuhrer, and other positions that are not Sarah Taylor Ellis’ Stage and Cinema review of Back to Back’s GANESH VERSUS THE THIRD REICHdefined by disability. Director and designer Bruce Gladwin transports the audience to a different world in these moments; the actors draw layers of plastic curtains across the stage to set the scene, and hazy lighting and sharp sound design amplify the talents of this troupe of players.

Always self-aware in its theatricality, Ganesh versus the Third Reich raises a host of unanswerable questions about cultural representations that continue to haunt me beyond the theater. This review only begins to scratch the surface of the smart theatrical work and necessary political conversations that Back to Back has begun.

photos by Jeff Busby

Ganesh versus the Third Reich
Back to Back Theatre at Under the Radar Festival at The Public Theater
scheduled to end on January 20, 2013
for tickets, call 212-967-7555 or visit Public Theater

tours thru May 25, 2013
for more info visit Back to Back Theatre

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