Hitler’s Tasters by Michelle Kholos Brooks had only two performances in Los Angeles before COVID-19 forced its premature closure Sunday. Socially distanced seating, a last-minute wipe-down of a riser, and a sober introduction by Joel Shapiro, founder and artistic director of the Electric Lodge in Venice—and a physician—added to the sense of unease even before the last performance began.
Keeping tension high was Hitler’s poisonous yet unseen presence permeating the play, which focuses on teenage Aryan girls enlisted to keep him safe from actual poisoning. Mean girl Hilda (MaryKathryn Kopp), nerdy Liesl (Hallie Griffin), soft-spoken Anna (Kaitlin Page Longoria) and lively Margot (Hannah Mae Sturges) frolic and compete by turn, behaving as teen girls in less extreme circumstances might have during wartime.
They also take selfies with their smartphones and dance to 21st-century music. They speak in a unique combination of 1940s formality and OMG currency and snark. One taster is a “royal bitch,” another a sarcastic “girlfriend.” The clash between then and now, while initially jarring, ultimately makes the characters more relatable. These are everygirls, drawn into the service of a government out of their control and requiring blind devotion. Any chafing under restrictions and potential duty-death is quickly tamped down, in case the SS is listening. It’s reminiscent of the “It’s a Good Life” episode of The Twilight Zone, where those who say anything deemed unpleasant by the all-powerful boy are wished into the cornfield.
There are also some unavoidable corollaries to our current political climate.
Yet these girls aren’t unlucky townspeople forced to fake fealty to the one who controls their fate. They’re unlucky, no question, but they consider it an honor to serve their Führer, even, perhaps, to die for him. Are they heroines, monsters or something in between?
Playwright Brooks and Director Sarah Norris leave such judgments to the audience, who veer from disgust to empathy when faced with the characters’ uncomfortably familiar flaws and insecurities. The result is a piece that’s sometimes LOL funny and sometimes heartbreakingly sad, an important commentary on the (sadly) eternal truths about human frailty and government run amok.
A few years back I wrote and performed a show about online dating called To Quote Hitler… (Yes, one of my dates, unaware of my last name, actually quoted Hitler to me.) The group putting on the show balked at the title and I ended up calling it All the Wrong Men. Michelle Kholos Brooks has encountered similar resistance to the Hitler name in her title, and even lost a staging of it, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The name and the atrocities it stands for continue to divide and enrage, as well as inspire new perspectives and riffs, such as JoJo Rabbit and this engaging, timely and thought-provoking work. Good wishes to Brooks, Norris and the rest of the talented team that have taken Hitler’s Tasters from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival to a (temporarily shuttered) local venue. When it reopens, it will surely go on to greatness.
About Laura Foti Cohen
Laura Foti Cohen has lived in the Brookside neighborhood since 1993. She works as a freelance writer, editor and consultant. She's also a playwright affiliated with Neo Ensemble Theatre in Hollywood.
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