When we talk about the “banality of evil,” Hitler’s Tasters is the sort of thing we talk about. Not the play, but the real tasters, the normal people who became extraordinary for the depths of their monstrosity. In this case they were teenage girls. Girls of “good stock.” These girls did their duty to the Reich and to the Fuhrer, diligently, effectively, proud of the “honor” to serve with such distinction.
Liesel, Hilda, Anna, and Margot are pretty as a picture and sugar sweet, though the play itself is a darker, bitterer confection. It’s full of anachronistic touches meant to bring home parallels to certain current menacing megalomaniac heads of state. They aren’t subtle, but they do work to emphasize how people so young and with such potential for joy can also be conduits for unimaginable evil.
Kaitlin Paige Longoria, Hallie Griffin, MaryKathryn Kopp
Teenagers feel everything to 110%, so it’s no wonder they made such excellent conduits for genocidal zeal. To see their smiling faces and hear their girlish giggles, you can almost forget who the girls are and how they think. Behind their boy-crazy musings, they’re afraid of looking too sympathetic to Americans. They live among the privileged class in Hitler’s Germany and so possess the bearing of the confidently superior. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t deeply fearful for their lives, and not simply due to the fact that they’re eating food that may or may not be poisoned. In fact, it seems like that is the least of their concerns where the Reich is concerned. Everything they say, do, and think has the potential to be used as a weapon against them. And as Hilda says, “the walls have ears.” Sometimes even the privileged can’t escape the horror.
The performances are faultless. MaryKathryn Kopp, Hallie Griffin, Kaitlin Paige Longoria, and Hannah Sturges are engaging and charming, again, to the point that it becomes easy to forget that their characters are fully in support of genocide. Jews, Romani…really anyone they see as being less deserves death, and almost everyone is less. Like teenage girls, they delight in the little narcissistic pleasures.
Many of these pleasures are anachronistic, like their smartphones. They use them to mark the time in their mandatory post-gustatory waiting periods, but also use them to help pass the time taking silly selfies. It isn’t a subtle touch, but neither are the dozen or so references to the current administration, to MAGA, to Black Lives Matter and Me Too.
Like the performances, the ideas behind Hitler’s Tasters are rather good. Playwright Michelle Kholos Brooks has tapped into a fascinating story based solidly in history, making it relevant today, as scary as that is. What it lacks in subtlety it makes up for in character. The characters are individuals with distinct voices, which is great to see even if those voices are espousing weapons-grade hate.
Kaitlin Paige Longoria, MaryKathryn Kopp, Hallie Griffin
If the messages are delivered more heavy-handedly than necessary, they’re done in a way that entertains, also possibly more than expected. And for anyone who perhaps hadn’t made the connections between current policy and that of the early days of the Nazi Party, it does underline some striking similarities.
Director Sarah Norris has also done a marvelous job of capturing the passage of time, the monotony of regularly repeated terror, the anticipation and anxiety. The several colorful interludes, with precision synchronized dance moves and an interesting soundtrack, are oddly compelling. Emotions give way to mechanical routines as the girls put aside the very real possibility of an early grave to consume what could be their final meal for Fuhrer and Fatherland.
Hitler’s Tasters is a disturbingly entertaining piece of work from a group of talented women. It’s funny and creepy, but also genuinely interesting to contemplate. It’s a show that will linger in your mind, even if only because those Nazis are so likable and relatable. But the truth is that the parallels to today are something we have to address as a society. If we don’t, some of us may live in privilege, but we’ll all learn to fear.
Photos by Hunter Canning
Top: L-R: MaryKathryn Kopp, Kaitlin Paige Longoria, Hallie Griffin
The New Light Theater Project
IRT Theater – 3B Residency
154 Christopher Street
Through October 27, 2018