By Steve Nardoni
The last surviving member of Hitler’s food-tasting team, Margot Woelk, who died in 2014, was reported to have said. “….Hitler was a really repugnant man. And a pig.” And what she would have thought of this line-crossing re-enactment of the ordeal she and other young women had to suffer through during the war as Hitler’s tasters. What the playwright Michelle Kholos Brooks has successfully done is meld that past horror with the current political climate (and culture) in America to create a shape-shifting presentation of the 1940’s, spray- painted by 2018.
The anachronisms between 1940 and 2018 are plentiful: cell phones, selfies, hip-hop dancing, yoga, UV protection and constant shouts of “OMG!” overlay the gut-wrenching story of girls in Nazi Germany who were “chosen” to serve the Reich by tasting three times a day the Furher’s food to make sure he wouldn’t be poisoned.
The girls, Liesel (Hallie Griffin), Hilda (Mary Kathryn Kopp), Anna (Kaitlin Paige Longoria), and Margot (Hannah Sturges) gossip, dream (“Which one do you want in your bed…The Fuhrer…or Frank Sinatra?”) and dancing ( how about to “I Love U Satan: Rihanna and “Bitch: I’m Madonna”) interspersed with their patter of Nazi propaganda and anti-Semitism while they anxiously await either the victory of the Reich or their death by poisoning.
Their lives are unbearable: rapes, missing relatives, bomb threats. Cast in a version of “Mean Girls: The War Years,” these actors portray so well “bitches,” “whiners” or “nerds” and capture at the same time the absolute terror of the plight that young girls must have endured in these situations.
Brooks exacerbates this juxtaposition with dialogue like “You know what’s funny? We’ve been so excited about seeing the Fuhrer that we totally forgot we could die today!” or “You know, Anna… I hadn’t noticed it before… but from this angle… you almost look like you could be a Jew”.
But overall, the seeming disconnect to the audience is the use of 2018 dialogue in a story that is over 70 years old. But chillingly, as we hear the story filtered also through current cultural chatter, we can hear and envision the possibility of a country repeating the past.
The IRT Theater with about 36 seats was the perfect venue for this production, aptly aided by an all-female design team and directed by Sarah Norris.
Photos: Hunter Canning
Hitler’s Taster’s, The IRT Theater, 154 Christopher Street, New York, NY on October 10th.Through October 27
Run Time: 90 Minutes