"No, no, no," reprimands a gruff man, barring my targeted seat with a foreboding arm. "This table is strictly reserved for Phil Elwood."
"But, the woman down there ...," I say, pointing.
"Well, I don't care what the people down there say," he sniffs. "This is where Mr. Elwood sits. This is where Mr. Elwood always sits."
The other usher whisks me away. "Mr. Elwood has chosen to sit elsewhere," she says. "I think he may have been teasing me when he said he wanted this table." Settling in, I spy my newfound nemesis, Elwood, sharing a chuckle with his wife as they await the opening act, surrounded by a motley mix of die-hard Nina Hagen fans, as well as native-born Germans there to see the renowned Deutsch clairvoyant Hanussen II, illegitimate son of the Nazi-era psychic. "[Hanussen II] predicted the Apollo 13 accident when I was still living in Germany," shares a 70-ish woman bundled in a heavy woolen coat. "He knows things."
Last year, the Goethe-Institut presented The Seven Addictions and Five Professions of Anita Berber, a bizarre cabaret based on the life of the Weimar Republic's drug-addled "It Girl," in which Hagen also starred. Hanussen's life was stranger still, matched by the staged spectacle to come. As the sickly sweet smell of cigars fills the air, the unequivocal Club Foot Orchestra opens the show. Hagen enters in her customary pigtails and skintight black fetishwear, purring sensuously while burlesque dancers slink across the stage. Wanda, the "three-legged virgin" played by Jennifer Pieren, steals the spotlight from the other dancers with an almost ludicrously sexy seduction routine.
"The Goethe-Institut found me last year," the 23-year-old performer later says, "at the Century Theater where I was stripping. They needed someone to play Anita Berber. They saw me dance and gave me the part without my auditioning. That's where I first met Nina."
Since then, the two have become great friends, and Pieren will be staying at Hagen's L.A. home until she and the Queen of Punk set off on a European tour this June. "She says that I am her daughter reincarnated from an abortion she had when she was 15," Pieren explains. "She's the mom I never had, the kindest, most warmhearted person that I've ever known. And she is very religious, but not in a hippie way."
Hagen's original songs for the night make frequent reference to meditation and reincarnation, but it's only a sketchy thematic buildup to the antics of Hanussen II.
After a moving speech -- aided and abetted by a trans-lator -- detailing how his infant body was abandoned in a pigsty and how we are all the fortunate children of the sun, the snow-haired clairvoyant blesses the crowd with six lucky lottery numbers for future use. Some audience members shout, "Bingo!" while others yell, "You sunk my battleship!" (Still others shout, "Shyster!") Nonplussed, Hanussen rises from his seat and searches the crowd for someone with "strong thoughts." Finding a gray-haired woman with a cane, he leads her to the stage and reduces her to tears by revealing to the assembled that she has suicidal thoughts.
With this, a rather disturbing way to conclude a cabaret, the cast takes a colorful round of bows and says good night.
"Well, that was very strange," a befuddled customer comments on the way out. "Not enough Nina, I think." Very true. But for anyone looking to hit the Lotto, Hanussen's number picks are 5, 13, 19, 21, 34, and 37.
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By Silke Tudor