30 Jul 2011: Off Center Theater Kansas City, MO
Bryan Colley and Tara Varney’s daring, seminal Hexing Hitler concerns five persons in the hinterland of Maryland who attempt to curse, or hex, Adolf Hitler in 1941. It is influenced by a LIFE story during the war period. Director Tara Varney perceptively turns the play into a meditation on fascism, not on Hitler so much; save for some rather indirect vein. Thematically, it is not as Der Untergang-like as it is Tempest-like in terms of Machiavellian politics, magic, innocence, knowledge, and wrongdoing.
The principal characters entail the ostensibly erudite and assuredly dipsomaniacal William Seabrook (Kipp Simmons) and the seemingly spoiled, naively submissive girl-who-just-wants-to-have-fun sort, Ruth Birdseye (Melody Butler). Put otherwise, Richard Dawkins would likely describe Ms. Birdseye as one of those biologically promiscuous women, indeed a bona fide trollop. Her long, red coat gives her away. Initially, Ruth Birdseye is reluctant to participate in the curse on Hitler, but she quickly consents—primarily because she wants to please her chauvinistic, fraternity-type boyfriend. Later, she claims she thought the malediction was merely a “lark”, or, trivial game. Unfortunately, she is not taken seriously by the rest of the group, and moreover, she is the butt of several hurtful jokes pertaining to her will and intellect. It seems the party has other items in mind for her.
Actress Melody Butler had a few words to share about her character, ” I think Ms. Birdseye is at a stereotype view a socialite. But more than that she is a person who needs a lot of attention and a lot of re-assurance. She is the life of the party because that is what she was raised to be- but there is something dark inside of her. I think she has an inkling that it is there but has never really expressed it before the night in the cabin. That being said, I don’t think she is a bad person. I think she is a product of her environment- she has been given everything her whole life (except for maybe real meaningful love) and has convinced herself that the things she was given are the things she really wants.”
Notwithstanding, Birdseye soon becomes passionate and obsessive-compulsive about eliminating Hitler; she’s caught in the curse of the moment. At this particular point, Butler’s acting is spot-on and most credible. As Birdseye batters and stabs an effigy of Hitler, she in effect knocks his martial hat and emblematic arm band to the floor; her frenzied facial features and animated body betray her commitment to the plot. She later cannot recall exactly what took hold of her. But Butler’s intense, histrionic technique did not remain unnoticed. Her hybrid acting, a nice combination of trance and a certain verisimilitude, is sound. Birdseye’s engaging and mantic antics during this critical scene are the play’s pinnacle.
Once one is beyond a mannequin bedecked in chic Nazi attire, the social commentary arrives. For example, a coven can effect good deeds and rid the world of a fascist Catholic, please forgive the redundancy. Let’s cite the first line of Hitler’s Mein Kampf, which is conceptually Christian: “Today it seems to me providential that Fate should have chosen Braunau on the Inn as my birthplace”. A rather good, resentful Christian Hitler must have been, but perchance he was a mightier, theocratic propagandist. That members of an occult religion could accomplish an ostensibly ethical thing is still somehow controversial, as is the plain fact that in reality not all Christians are charitable or noble. It’s ironic that the coven uses fascist methods to terminate fascism.
Indeed, the play meaningfully studies fascism, going so far as to show it in action, albeit subtly. Constance Kuhr (Sarah Mae Lamar), Seabrook’s lady friend, notes that official Nazi policy is that the interests of the state trump those of the individual. If you will, a terse summation of fascism. Seabrook and Kuhr are twin power brokers, and they slyly manipulate and control Birdseye, the impressionable dame. Both more than persuade her to perform the hex, and to assassinate Hitler. Birdseye, says Seabrook, is supposedly nature embodied. Being female, she is thus a born leader.
William Seabrook rather is the puppet-master. He informs Birdseye that her personal thoughts of contempt are most important to the curse’s success rate. Furthermore, the Polonius-like tool Kuhr tells Birdseye that her soul must be sacrificed as well but later advises her to bury her guilt with the dummy Hitler’s decapitated head. Kuhr thereby concedes her specific role in the devastating corrupting of Birdseye. Good luck to both, as guilt is tightly wound up with the mind. Hans Frank related that, “A thousand years will pass and the guilt of Germany will not be erased”—just prior to his execution at Nuremberg.