Mein Kampf

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Editorial Review

Review: 'Mein Kampf'
By Jane Horwitz
Monday, July 23, 2012

An untalented artist, newly arrived in 1909 Vienna, young Adolf Hitler (Cameron McNary) throws a shrieking tantrum after mistakenly using brown polish on black shoes. A spoiled mama’s boy, he strews his dirty socks around the flophouse dorm where he bunks. He launches into anti-Semitic tirades at Schlomo Herzl (Stas Wronka), a Jewish writer who takes the bigoted bumpkin under his wing.

This is the world of George Tabori’s dark, absurdist 1987 comedy “Mein Kampf,” produced by Scena Theatre at H Street Playhouse. With the benefit of hindsight, it’s painful to watch Herzl try to smooth the rough edges on a mass-murderer-to-be. Tabori, a Hungarian-born playwright, screenwriter and director who died in 2007, used irony and burlesque like cudgels in the play, but effectively. In Act 2, Hitler’s pal Himmlisch (Joseph Carlson), i.e. the young Heinrich Himmler, kills and roasts a chicken in ways that foreshadow Auschwitz (where Tabori’s father perished). And Michael C. Stepowany’s scenic design harks forward to concentration camp barracks.

Scena’s production is part of Fringe but will continue beyond the festival through Aug. 19. The show feels a tad rough-hewn itself, and at nearly 21 / 2 hours, it loses its momentum in a couple of long scenes, one with Herzl’s frolicsome teenage love Gretchen (Hannah Cassidy Burkhauser), the other a long, symbolic visit by Frau Death (Ellie Nicoll). That noted, Scena’s Robert McNamara has coaxed several strong performances from his cast, most particularly from McNary as Hitler. The actor blends the comic and horrific in Tabori’s portrait, and he is riveting.

As Herzl, Wronka evokes deep intelligence and a philosophical mien, but he struggles at times with his speeches in this text-heavy show. As Herzl’s older fellow Jew, Lobkowitz, who loves theological debates, Stephen Lorne Williams brings a cranky dignity to the stage.