The FYhrer's Fortuneteller
"If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry." So said Emily Dickinson, no slouch in the poetry line. I feel the same way about theater. Great theater -- and what is the point in leaving home for anything else? -- should astonish. It should take everything you've ever believed and challenge all of it. Live theater should take your world and turn it upside down.
Thinking about theater in this way, I talk with Mel Gordon, who wrote and directed The Seven Addictions and Five Professions of Anita Berber at the Goethe-Institut in 1994. His latest, also produced by the Goethe-Institut, is Hanussen: The True Story of Hitler's Jewish Clairvoyant. Gordon stakes his place quickly in conversation: "My thing is to make theater extraordinary. I want people to be electrified. I want to make theater that's better than movies. Most theater is a 30-minute idea stretched to three hours. I want a three-hour idea that's compressed into one-plus hours. My kind of theater is overrich, overloaded -- as opposed to people just talking."
Is anything about theater worth saving in Gordon's view? He is quick to point out that "nothing can top the live event. There is no movie event, since anyone can see the same movie anytime. The theater event is a one-time thing," Gordon continues. "The live communication with the audience ... is stunning. When it's well-done, then theater is special. I am interested in specialness, in that event that is extraordinarily hot, that happens, then disappears."
How does Gordon approach the bizarre tale of Hanussen? With the awareness that "the story is so extraordinary that it needs extraordinary means to tell it." He explains: "Hanussen was a kind of Houdini/Jimmy Swaggart character. He was a charlatan who may actually have been a real clairvoyant, a Jew who posed as a Danish aristocrat and mesmerized Hitler. He was like Schindler in that he felt he could convince the Nazis on Jewish policy without revealing himself." Of course, when the Gestapo discovered Hanussen's identity, he was executed.
Gordon decided to tell the story as a revue. The evening includes sketches, live music, film clips, magical play, erotic dances, and an authentic mind-reading act performed by Hanussen's own son. The action is nonstop, constantly shifting and changing. "I want to make an impression on the mind of the spectator that can't be forgotten," Gordon concludes with perhaps the only understatement of our conversation. Call 474-0365.
Crooning for a Cause
And now for something completely different: Michael Feinstein appears in concert at Marin Veterans Auditorium Sat., March 30, to benefit the Osher Marin JCC Scholarship Fund. Call 472-3500.