Through June 23|
THE RED DRESS The New Phoenix Theatre/Argyle Road Productions
Family memories can be very difficult, even memories from before you can remember things.
Tania Wisbar didn’t learn until she was an adult that her mysteriously missing father was a sleazeball and a great moviemaker for Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels.
At least, that’s the story she tells in “The Red Dress,” a tale of love, rejection and murderous hate.
While it’s impossible to know from outside the family, Wisbar took a book written by her mother, Eva Kroy Wisbar, “The Red Dress,” and turned it into this play of the same name, now on The New Phoenix Theatre stage, which is a devastating attack on her father.
He’s long been known as one of the founders of modern American TV.
Here, her stage father, Franz Weitrek (Josh Nuncio), is a scarred, physically and mentally, officer veteran of the German Army in World War I.
Her mother, Alexandre Schiele (Liz McKendry) is a major movie star who meets Franz accidentally and the relationship builds, they fall in love and eventually marry.
Alexandra isn’t political in a time when that’s hard because there is civil war in Germany’s streets and they live in Berlin, home of the German film industry and of the government.
She ignores Franz’ praise for the message being preached by the Nazis and Adolf Hitler, simply ignoring where he’s going.
Alexandra doesn’t want to know, instead leading her life as a star…until she isn’t.
Franz gradually builds his career, initially with her help until he hitches his camera to the star of National Socialism and Goebbels.
Alexandra sticks with acting until she’s forced off the screen under the new regime and she retires to private life.
But, she tries to ignore what’s going on, including disappearance of her best friend, Sybil Stein (Camilla Maxwell), who realizes what’s going on and heads off to Palestine.
Then, Alexandra taunts the new power structure and its elaborate dress code, with a red dress to a major Nazi event.
That’s all the first act, which is more than a little disjointed, often assuming audience members are familiar with events, as they usually are.
The other difficulty is the use of projections to help tell the story and it’s also not always possible to understand what they are.
The second act is much more condensed, a Gestapo interrogation room in a Berlin jail, an interrogation conducted by a guy who was a regular cop when he met Alexandra years before and fell in love with here.
Jeremy Kreuzer’s Dieter Keller is a man of no conscience, eager to put Nazi racial policies into place and cleanse Germany of those who aren’t Aryan and earn promotions for himself.
And, there are a lot of those groups to be disappeared, millions of whom were eventually killed.
Franz and the pregnant Alexandra are faced with an insoluble choice and she soon discovers which side her husband is on.
In the end, she chooses life and he chooses career with the Propaganda Ministry.
Is this all the way it happened?
That’s never clear, although it’s certainly plausible in the demonic time of Nazi Germany and that should never be forgiven.
Is this a daughter’s revenge on her father?
“The Red Dress” is an erratic look at two people in hard times and the choices people make in impossible situations.
Director Frank A. Rossi is taking this show to Broadway, obviously influenced by an earlier production in L.A. and this production and careful videotaping of the production I attended.
The show needs work, although fancier projections will help.
Rossi has some strong performances, McKendry, Kreuzer and Pamela Rose Mangus’ small role as Rachel.
“The Red Dress” probably falls into the “docudrama” category but tells a story and makes you wonder about father-daughter conversations between playwright Tania Wisbar and her father Frank.
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