THE CROAKING FASCIST
and THE ARMBAND VARIATIONS
Theater for the Age of Gold
at Link's Hall
What an ad campaign Hitler ran! Almost half a century after the fall of the Third Reich his hollow-eyed, caterpillar-mustached visage and fylfot logo (co-opted from a Bronze Age Eurasian religious symbol) are still considered vivid and powerful enough by artists several generations removed to be immediately recognizable to audiences likewise many generations removed. Stalin, the perpetrators of the Spanish Inquisition, and Idi Amin cannot make the same claim. Thus old Hitler's mug is the focal point of the two short plays, written by Jeff Dorchen, that make up the latest production of the Theater for the Age of Gold.
The first play of the evening is The Armband Variations, which comprises two parts. In the first the arrogant and eccentric Mr. Rothschild (Dorchen), who keeps his late wife's ashes with him at all times and addresses her tenderly in conversation, awakens one morning to discover that his servant has emblazoned yellow six-pointed stars on his linen "so that everyone will know that you are a Jew." Rothschild has almost forgotten this fact himself, but his servant is none other than Adolf Hitler (Mickle Maher), who is about to become the German chancellor. His first official act is to order his former employer to his knees and shower him with Mrs. Rothschild's ashes.
In the second variation John Hitler (Maher) meets his pal, Scott (Dorchen), at the Daley Center, where they have come to undergo "employee interrogation," a process involving electrodes to the genitals ("I just got hired," Scott explains. "From here on, it's just blood and urine, lie detectors and brain-wave surveillance"). After discussing the preceding variation for a moment, the two exchange news of their altered life-styles: the able-bodied John has recently joined the Wallace-Flynt party--as in George Wallace and Larry Flynt--and therefore can now be classified as "handicapped" for hiring-quota purposes. The Jewish Scott has joined the Cokely-Jeffries party--as in Steve Cokely and Leonard Jeffries, two purveyors of "Jewish conspiracy" theories--and is now officially a "woman of color." This, he says, is what saved his marriage, for his wife is a member of the Foster-Bernhard party and thus a lesbian. Of course, both men claim to have made these changes solely in pursuit of laissez-faire capitalism.
This is satire that bites. The observation that self-interest is capable of uniting the bitterest of enemies may not be new, but Dorchen's complex narrative structures and rapier dialogue (when John confesses to finding Scott rather attractive as a woman of color Scott responds, "I'm a separatist. I don't think the races should mix") give that observation the freshness of revelation. The play's wit more than compensates for its occasional low comedy--at one point Rothschild spanks the future fuehrer with a menorah--but that's not true of the second and longer play, The Croaking Fascist, which attempts to show the consequences of the compromises made by the two men.
In this play Hitler has become Hitlerina (Maher), a coy southern belle following a coin-vended sex-change operation. She and Herod (Dorchen), her baby-brained servant, are being detained on an alien planet where their rocket ship crashed after they evacuated a devastated earth. We are given to understand that Herod has been fed the brains of both the late Secretary Kahane Bellow Bloom Shamir Cohn and also the late General Clarence Farrakhan Sharpton Powell Buthelese, a diet that enables him to change at will into a stereotypical Fagin or stereotypical Rastus, all for the erotic gratification of the manipulative Hitlerina. The two also discuss the circumstances that have brought them to their present situation--chief among which is the lust for power.
In The Croaking Fascist Dorchen clearly means to equate the ambitions of hate-mongering minority would-be leaders with the tactics of Hitler. Unfortunately, his message is almost completely buried under schoolroom-sniggery stage business. Herod suckles at Hitlerina's breast and rips off her merkin; he also eats from the severed skull of the "sexually and racially ambiguous Salome Standish," beginning with the eye sockets. In his Secretary Kahane persona, Herod performs analingus on Hitlerina while--we are told--reciting The Diary of Anne Frank; during his self-debasing ministrations Hitlerina delivers an ecstatic mantra that begins, "Why is this night unlike all other nights?" A similar scene is enacted later involving cunnilingus, Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and a parody of a Langston Hughes line, "What happens to a dream deferred?"
One of Dorchen's characters speaks of seeing a play and realizing that he "was forever to be an outsider, a twisted and lonely apostle of irony and paradox and confusion." Irony, paradox, and confusion are plentiful in these plays--I confess to losing the story line entirely during the last 20 minutes or so. But beneath the aren't-we-outrageous gags, which apparently delighted the opening-night audience, are trenchant warnings to a society grown dangerously complacent. If Dorchen et al are truly sincere in their purpose, they might consider sharing their insight with more than the converted and/or strong of stomach.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Phil Cantor.