Ethical Love: Review of CADA studio’s Lies, Love and Hitler
Lies, Love and Hitler, written by Elizabeth Avery Scott, was shortlisted for the Seaborn Playwrights Award in 2009. Set in a university’s Theology department, Dr. Paul Langley believes that he may be slightly mad. The reason – he keeps seeing an apparition of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. For those playing at home, Bonhoeffer was a German pastor and theologian who wrote on Christianity’s role in the secular world. He is also remembered for being a staunch opponent to Hitler’s Nazi regime. So much so that Bonhoeffer was actually involved in an assassination plot against the Fuhrer, for which he was arrested and eventually executed, weeks before the war’s end.
Scott opens her play midway through one of Langley’s lectures, where he poses the question, ‘if given the opportunity, would you kill Hitler?’ He says this raises an ethical dilemma, as to whether we govern our life by rules: the belief that all our actions are either inherently right or wrong; or if we are governed by results: the belief that the end will justify the means. Against this philosophical backdrop Langley finds himself drawn into a relationship with one of his students, Hannah. This raises rather tricky ethical questions, which only become more complex when Hannah lodges a sexual harassment suit against another member of staff.
Langley and Hannah’s story rings true to our everyday experiences: quite often people know what the correct decision is and still they go against it; or, they will condemn another’s actions, only to replicate them later and feel justified by their situation. The problem with this play is that Scott has juxtaposed a very extreme example: would you kill Hitler, (the majority of people would), with a rather straight forward one: should a teacher enter into a romantic relationship with their student (well no, they probably shouldn’t). One feels the play is working very hard to problematize two questions that at heart have very obvious answers. The parallel between Langley and Bonhoeffer isn’t particularly favorable either, for while Bonhoeffer compromised his principles for a very selfless reason, Langley is compromising his for a rather selfish one.
In presentation, Bonhoeffer himself stands out as the most interesting character. It should be mentioned however that Langley’s character arch, going from a rules man to a results man, is natural and well crafted. Even so, Langley’s story, in comparison to Bonhoeffer’s, is quite mundane. The most powerful point in the play comes when Bonhoeffer gives up the chance to escape prison to save his family and fiancée. Nevertheless, his scenes appear tacked onto the Langley/Hannah story. One can’t help feeling that a play about the little known Bonhoeffer would have been more interesting.
As Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Doug Chapman was quiet and observant yet he managed to bring a strength and warmth to the role. In doing so Chapman charmingly presents the European vibe, something to the tune of Mikhail Nikolaevich Baryshnikov (though obviously his German counterpart). As the play progressed, Chapman settled into the softness of the accent, proving in all certainty to be fascinating to watch. With hands in pockets and round spectacles perched on the nose, he looked every bit the resolute revolutionary, a true standout for this production.
James Scott played Dr Paul Langley, a ‘dweeby’ professor of theology and long term family friend (turned partner) to Hannah. Scott had natural instincts as the star cross’d lover, falling believably head over heels for his younger student. Scott felt less natural in his stagecraft though this was somewhat embraced by the endearing qualities of the character. Overall Scott played to wonderful effect.
Ylaria Rogers played fiery feminist Hannah, eventual partner to Langley and Bonhoeffer convert. Rogers nailed the independence and free thinking spirit of a university student though her emotional moments were slightly repetitive. She performed to excellence however as Hermione, the university’s internal investigator. As Hermione, Rogers was terse, unforgiving and extremely accurate in her depiction of bureaucracy.
For the most part though Lies, Love and Hitler engages its audience and has some wonderful pieces of dialogue. At the very least it will spark conversation, and any theatre that gets us thinking is doing its job. Come for the show, stay for the philosophical debate that will follow.
Lies, Love and Hitler is playing with the Sydney Independent Theatre Company until the 3rd of May. For more information see: http://www.sitco.net.au/