Tuesday, September 14, 2010

My Evening At the Kit Kat Klub in Berlin

I spent last Friday evening in Berlin at the Kit Kat Klub. The trip there was easy. No need to jump on the Silver Line to Logan Airport and board a Lufthansa flight to Germany. I caught the Red Line to Harvard Square in the People's Republic of Cambridge, and presented my documents to the burly bouncers manning the Velvet Rope. Voila! I was transported to pre-war Germany and to a time when the Third Reich was aborning and Hitler and his values were in their ascendancy.

The A.R.T., under the artistic direction of Diane Paulus, has used the Oberon performance space in ways that are strikingly consistent. I know when I walk into the space that I will experience a show that is in some way interactive, a bit ribald, bold and will involve some element of gender bending. This production of "Cabaret" is no exception. It is, as it should be, in-your-face and shocking. The audience is not attending a theater performance but is participating in an evening of fun and denial in a decadent Berlin boƮte, seeking refuge from the shattering effects of an impending Kristallnacht.

Directed by Steven Bogart, this is a Cabaret that uses its ensemble well and employs the many levels of performing space available in the Oberon. The Kit Kat dancers are all over the place - and all over each other. The choreography by Stephen Mitchell Wright is not quite at Bob Fosse level, but it is quite good and very energetic.

Amanda Palmer plays the Emcee. She does a fine job, but I would have preferred to see a more defined sense of the Emcee's personhood. This becomes problematic during the Torch song, "I Don't Care Much." Because the choice had been made to have a female playing the traditionally male Emcee, having the Emcee suddenly appear in a shimmering evening gown loses its intended impact. Aly Trasher's Sally Bowles sets the right tone. She and Matt Wood, playing Cliff Bradshaw, an ex-pat awash in the swirling currents of a Berlin where the rules are changing, work well together.

For me, the highlight of the evening was the surprisingly wonderful chemistry that crackled between Fraulein Schneider, played superbly by Thomas Derrah, and her Jewish boarder and suitor, Herr Schultz, played perfectly by A.R.T. veteran, Remo Airaldi. In the case of the casting of Fraulein Schneider, the gender bending worked to a tee. Derrah's rendition of "So What" early in the show was a revelation. Within a few bars, I totally forgot that I was watching a man portraying a woman; I was drawn into the dowdy spinster's dark and hopeless world and was moved. Later in Act I, the duet "Married," between Schneider and Schultz offered a poignant moment that evoked shouts of "bravo!" from the audience.

Several directing choices were clearly made to shock the audience. The appearances of tiny swastikas in places where the sun or footlights do not normally shine took the audience's breath away. A final double montage suggesting images from the death camps also left the audience wondering how to respond. "Is is appropriate to clap for the Third Reich and the Holocaust?"

This "Cabaret" is not for the faint of heart, but is well worth the trip to the Oberon. It is always appropriate to be reminded of the terrible cost of denial in the face of impending fanaticism, and being entertained while being prodded is a nice way to spend an evening in Berlin - or in Cambridge.

No comments: