Chicago Theater Review: HANNAH AND MARTIN (Shattered Globe Theatre at Theater Wit)

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by Lawrence Bommer on April 15, 2019

in Theater-Chicago


There is no last supper or cross on Golgotha but, yes, Hannah and Martin is a true passion play. What makes this even stranger is that it’s as much about clashing ideologies as characters in conflict. Both pile-driving and even-handed, it presents a true-life struggle between famous lover-thinkers caught up in the ugliness of Nazi Germany. Journalist-playwright Kate Fodor’s masterful first play brims over with all sorts of truths, painful and profound, and receives an equally nervous, galvanic Shattered Globe Theatre staging by Louis Contey.

At its heart lies a question: Can we refuse help to an outstretched hand when it belongs to a criminal?

Fodor’s dual and dueling portrait of phenomenologist Martin Heidegger (author of Being and Time) and cultural commentator Hannah Arendt (inventor of the phrase “banality of evil”) is a time capsule that explodes into the present. Hannah and Martin depicts their relationship from 1924, when Arendt had an affair with her esteemed professor at Freiburg University, to 1946, when, reversing herself, this Jewish writer argued that Heidegger must not be banned from teaching because of the intellectual legitimacy that he had foolishly afforded the now defeated Nazis. His books are too valuable to be punished for his politics. Her forgiveness doesn’t come easily, but then their very love was a curiosity verging on the impossible.

They were more than opposites that attract. Both acolyte and mentor were fiercely independent, in sex and thought. When their colleagues settled for beer, they were drunk on ideas. Christina Gorman plays Arendt as an exposed nerve, receptive to everything yet passionate for the truth. She thinks she has found the answers in one perfect teacher who is educating her not how to learn but how to think. She craves his credo — an advocacy of absolute “authenticity” that requires a “casting off [of] comfort[s]” such as free speech and minority rights. But slowly discovering her lover’s ugly agenda her silences speak volumes.

Lawrence Grimm’s richly complex Heidegger, a death-haunted romantic and an all-too-familiar “disruptor,” is an academic elitist who despises the “sameness” of democracy and everything about Communism. Sadly, this warped wise man may open minds but he has shut his own. Urging his students to become soldiers and burn books, he imagines Hitler as a throwback to the Greek ethos. “Building bridges to a heroic past,” Der Fuhrer is a radical purifier of German culture who will temper society to its noblest essence. (Incredibly, Heidegger will later desperately argue that it’s not up to him to forgive Hitler but for him to forgive Hitler for betraying his tarnished idealism.)

Narrowly escaping to America, only to return to Germany in 1946 to testify against Nazi fiends during the Nuremberg trials, Arendt acknowledges that Heidegger’s nationalistic abstraction had metastasized into monstrous mass murder. Amid the collateral damage came the corruption of one of Germany’s greatest thinkers.

But what if love is involved? By silencing Heidegger, will Arendt deprive future generations of a teacher so profound that he was able to liberate his students from him? What will be the toll on her if she is partial to a former lover turned apologist for his atrocities?

Shattered Globe Theatre’s revival is more than a tour-de-force between world-class antagonists. Author Fodor and director Contey generously deliver a very dramatic context: Doug McDade as beleaguered, decent philosopher Karl Jaspers, Heidegger’s rightly critical colleague; Drew Schad as Baldur von Schirach, Hitler’s vile minister of education, a creature who, believing that “the school should mirror the state,” truly corrupted young minds; Cortney McKenna as Heidegger’s Aryan-supremacist wife; Steve Peebles as Arendt’s salt-of-the-earth husband; and Jazzma Pryor as a student who breaks from Hannah much as she did from Martin.

Hannah and Martin is as full a world as one stage can contain. In our age of anxiety, Hannah’s forbearance and even Martin’s mistakes can teach the future.

photos by Michael Brosilow

Hannah and Martin
Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave.
Thurs-Sat at 8; Sun at 3; Sat at 3 (May 25 only)
ends on May 25, 2019
for tickets, call 773.975.8150 or visit Theater Wit

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

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