Love, Lies and Hitler – Elizabeth Avery Scott places the modern moral dilemma centre stage. (Theatre review)
Love, Lies and Hitler
Cada Studio Productions
Photos by Katy Green Loughrey
If you board the wrong train it is no use running along the corridor in the other direction.
So states one of several quotes by Bonhoeffer in the program for Love, Lies and Hitler, a play that asks the audience to examine the idea of taking a moral stand against a majority when one sees an injustice being done. Bonhoeffer is a moral giant, a man who saw the suffering of the Jews and immediately started an underground movement against Adolf Hitler, including a plot to murder the German leader. Bonhoeffer put his life on the line and eventually gave it for his moral position. Writer Elizabeth Avery Scott, chooses Bonhoeffer as the peg of integrity upon which a very contemporary moral dilemma is hung, the integrity her cast must face and use to guide their actions. Bonhoeffer (performed by an uncannily similar looking Doug Chapman) is the elephant in the room – literally. His ghost haunts this couple in Love, Lies and Hitler, and the audience as the opening scenes of the performance invite the audience to consider how far they would go for morality.
The moral difficulty Hannah (Ylaria Rogers) and Langley (James Scott) face is this: their love affair is one between student and university lecturer, and Hannah has accused another lecturer of sexual harassment. Not only is the relationship between Hannah and Langley clandestine due to its political nature, but its exposure could ruin Hannah’s career via an investigation on the part of the university skewed toward her defamation. The lovers are expected to weigh the consequences in terms of a clear morality, and yet I couldn’t help thinking of the Christian Right killing Doctors and staff who performed abortions – their defense always includes, would you kill Hitler?
Cleverly Elizabeth Avery Scott has chosen the sort of dilemma women have to deal with all the time. It may be a “life changer” for Langely, something he has never had to deal with before and therefore needs to consult the great Bonhoeffer over, but for Hannah, this is part of being a woman. Almost every loving encounter will compromise a woman’s morality, and certainly every violent and aggressive one will. It is telling in Avery Scott’s play that the male is faced with a terrible dilemma, and has to consult a theological ghost, but the young woman is mostly terrified of what she will be accused of later if her lover “takes a dive” for her, and how she will be expected to pay.
Elizabeth Avery Scott and through her, Cada Studio Productions have brought an intellectually provocative work to the stage at the Old Fitzroy Theatre, that begins, as if we were siting in a theology lecture, with the question of, is it right to choose the lesser of two evils, and if that is the case, how do you judge which evil is so bad that a lesser evil can be administered in its place? This is theatre geared toward long conversations into the night, and determined to ignite a spark among audiences typically heavy with the burden of Post Modern ennui. As the couple try to work out the best way to handle their dilemma, Bonhoeffer walks among them, chatting when he is seen, silently witnessing and judging when he is not. In many ways he represents the moral ideal we all carry. When faced with a situation that is black and white enough for us to notice it, we all have a talisman of moral hope we gather from the chains around our neck and polish up for some sort of assistance.
The production is enthusiastically performed with James Scott as a sweet clumsy Langley, naively finding himself in love for the first time with the joy of reciprocity in at his fingertips. He plays one of those teachers confident in front of the class, but nervous and unsure when alone in a room with a single soul. His sweetness is genuine, bringing another element to the play’s moral core, his belief in what is right becomes almost chivalrous, appropriately sparking warning bells in his bright young lover. His love interest is Hannah, Ylaria Rogers, who is an enigmatic Hannah, a bright and beautiful student one can easily imagine any man falling in love with. Rogers cleverly transmutes the coolness of a student dealing with a teacher she’s attracted to, into an equal opportunities investigator quite determined to find some sort of moral ambiguity in the young woman’s life. In some ways, the dual roles give us a chance to see two sides of a similar person, the way Rogers performs both roles, gives us a horrifying insight into the very small push it takes for someone to travel from hero to monster. Doug Chapman is (as I said above) a detached and yet guiding Bonhoeffer, who has a remarkable likeness to the man himself. If the production fails to recognise that morality isn’t just about courage, it is also about perspective, Chapman’s presence brings the moral giant to a very tangible life and close to home. His skill lies in his ability to humanise Bonhoeffer and bring the daily perspective to moral ambiguity. Chapman works well against Scott, who is on stage for every scene, the pair providing real insight into the very complex conversations a religious person might have with an apparition they feel deeply engaged with.
Rochelle Whyte has directed an energetic production of Love, Lies and Hitler. This is one to attend if you like your theatre laced with moral ambiguity but challenging you to make some real decisions in your life.