This review of George Tabori's Mein Kampf at Theater For The New City was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!
Written by George Tabori
Directed by Manfred Bormann
Theater For The New City
155 First Avenue
New York, New York 10003
Hitler arrives at Frau Merschmeyer's home for the homeless in Vienna-on-the-Danube after having traveled all night in a crowded third-class carriage from Braunau-on-the Inn, that bucolic little town of his birth, "bordering two Germanic states, whose reunion by all available means is the towering task of all true patriots." He has an interview with the Academy Of Fine Arts and is hoping to achieve his fortune as an artist, "a vocation predestined by my considerable graphic talent." One of his roommates in the flophouse is an old, ugly, Jewish man named Shlomo Herzl, who sells Lutheran Bibles, has visitations with Fraulein Gretchen Maria Globuschek-Bornemissza-Eszterfalvy (the last virgin over fourteen in Vienna), and who helps Hitler prepare for his interview by trimming his mustache and helping him shine his shoes. Hitler is very grateful and tells Shlomo, "Jew, I appreciate your assistance. When my time has come I shall reward you suitably. I'll buy you an oven, so you'll be warm, and when you get old I'll find you a solution..." Shlomo later suggests Hitler go into politics and mentions he is writing an autobiography he might call Mein Kampf (i.e. My Struggle), a name Hitler likes. His other roommate is "Lobkowitz the Loon, a kookie kosher cook, defrocked some years ago by his boss Moskowitz for mixing cream cheese with boiled beef, an insult to Mosaic law." After being fired, he fell into a coma and when he came out of it ten days later, he was under the impression he was God. In our first introduction to him, he says, "I called out in the dark, from behind the burning bush, where art thou, Shlomo Herzl, to receive the glad tidings that I reduced the Ten Commandments to three, but adultery is still in; plus the good old evergreens: (A) One God Is Enough and That's Me. B) If You Cannot Honor Your Parents, Call Them At Least Once A Week. (C) Before You Covet Your Neighbor's Wife, Make Sure He's Smaller Than You."
The young Hitler is depicted as needy, unloved, and paranoid. He has no talent as an artist and is rejected from the Academy of Fine Arts. Baron von Kropf, with his "undulating hairdo, perfumed handkerchief in his breast pocket, a pearl stuck into a silk bow tie, dove-grey spats, this baronial rector-rectum, exuding decadence, dared to suggest that I become a house-painter." With Shlomo's help, Hitler does sell some watercolors on the street to get by. He jerked off like other boys but has had no sexual experiences, cannot laugh, and was never hugged or kissed by his mother. Hitler refers to sexual relations as "intercoursing" and Shlomo makes fun of him saying, "Oh my God, policemen, and horses I can somewhat abide but get me out of the clutches of this Tyrolean faggola." Just to make sure you have the worst possible opinion of the future Fuehrer (in case his being responsible for the deaths of millions was not enough for you to have a negative opinion of him), playwright George Tabori has Lobkowitz (God) gratuitously comment on Hitler in a manner intended to defame him. Lobkowitz says of Hitler, "He sleeps all day, his mouth open. He either snores, a terrible buzz saw snore or talks in his dreams, snorting shreds of maledictions. Also, he is a champion snot flinger: a snort, a scrabbling excavation, producing a caterpillar-sized piece of desiccated slime, contemplates upon it with the curiosity of an archeologist, rolls it into a neat ball, flicks it across space. One lands, bang, on the windowpane, another, in a wide arc, splash, between my eyes." In case you didn't get the playwright's point, Shlomo mentions that Hitler walks around with a smelly backside because his mother never taught him to properly clean himself. He also gratuitously writes the young Hitler as having chronic constipation and makes him a hypochondriac. Shlomo taunts Hitler by suggesting his surname is Jewish and that they are probably cousins. Hitler resists the suggestion telling Shlomo, "You must have water on the brain. My blood is pure as driven snow, issue of a stock that is hard as flint, fast as a whippet." Hitler reserves to himself the right to be the sole judge of what and who he considers to be foreign and that includes Shlomo - "your accent, for example, your entire demeanor, and especially your nose, not to mention your twisted tongue, which turns into a question what you obviously intend as a statement." Shlomo eventually becomes a slave/father figure to the young Hitler, who confesses he never really wished to be a painter. He explains that was just "a tactical device to fool the fools." What he really wants is "The world!" including New Zealand. Especially New Zealand!
Gretchen, convincingly portrayed by Andrea Lynn Green, represents "innocence" in the play. Shlomo, the old, ugly Jew, is perceived by Hitler as being "a debaucher of innocence." Gretchen promises to stay with Shlomo and randomly gives him Mitzi, a chicken, to keep him company until she is of age. In the meantime, she picks specks off his forehead, hugs him, clips his toenails, and allow him to pet her hymen, which became dislodged during a shower accident. Shlomo Herzl, played to perfection by Jon Freda, unwittingly gives Hitler the confidence he needs to enter politics. Fearing there may be some embarrassing details about him in Shlomo's Mein Kampf, Hitler and his friends confront him demanding to see what he has written. Wielding a large knife, Hitler's friend Himmlisch (Jeff Burchfield) impliedly threatens Shlomo's physical well-being and foreshadows the future violence of the Third Reich by killing and dismembering the chicken in the process of making "a Mitzi Schnitzel in a delicious blood sauce." Cordis Heard makes an appearance as Frau Death. She plays the part in a laid back, low-key manner that makes her presence all the more chilling. For example, she explains to Shlomo, "I'm not interested in your friend as a corpse. As a corpse, as a victim, he is absolutely mediocre. But as a criminal, as a mass murderer, as an exterminating angel - a natural talent." Looking forward to the beginning of a wonderful friendship with Frau Death, Hitler says, "Madam, I shall not disappoint you!" As they are leaving, Hitler asks Frau Death if he can go get his toothbrush. She responds, "Yes, of course. There are plenty of teeth, hair, and gold fillings in the place we're going." Frau Death even has some final words for Shlomo telling him, "My poor Shlomo. If you knew what is to come! Fire will be set onto you. It will eat up every green and dry tree. Every face, from south to north, will be singed." Finally, G.W. Reed, who does a great job as Lobkowitz returns to the stage. Shlomo says, "Some God. Where have you been?" to which he responds, "I was here. I'm always here. Only you forgot to look (he sniffs at the pan that contained Mitzi). Smells good. Eat my son, not in hunger, but in the hope to ingest the martyr's strength you will need in all the years to come. You will need it."
The star of this production of Mein Kampf is Omri Kadim, a talented, charismatic actor who plays Hitler. His representation of the inexperienced young future Fuhrer raises possibilities left unaddressed in the script. Sure, there is some clever writing and some interesting monologues and dialogues, but in the end, other than the unconcealed hatred George Tabori exhibits towards Hitler, he really doesn't offer up a consistent premise or a thesis as to why and how Hitler turned out as he did. Were the elements of his dictatorial spirit and the potential for evil present in this young man from the beginning or might his exposure to different experiences have changed the course of his life. The presence of Lobkowitz and Shlomo in his room in the flophouse only reinforced his stereotypical and racial views towards Jews. But what if he, instead, was accepted into the Academy of Fine Arts or fell under the influence of a rich, masculine acting gay man who provided Hitler with his first sexual experiences and some fun "intercoursing?" I can't help but think things might have turned out different. Omri Kadim's magnificent performance gave me a lot to think about in what was, otherwise, a relatively mediocre play.