Left – Tim Marriott and Stefanie Rossi.
Not what was expected – by me anyway. I thought authoritarian jack boots and a visor cap would identify the subject of this play, Mengele. But no, here is an elderly, dithering man recovering on a Brazilian beach after being washed up there in only his swimming trunks. He isn’t alone. Watching him carefully is perhaps another example of human jetsam, a woman, with a box. She is pleasant, quietly spoken, curious and concerned for his well being, while he is irascible, bad tempered, jittery and cautious.
This play is a conversation between two people. The one calm and probing, the other cagey and aggressive. Both are intensely observed by the audience knowing who he is but deeply interested in how she, whoever she is, will get this egotistical man to reveal and explain – for we need him to explain what motivated him to do the things he did in World War 2. And do we expect him to justify them? Well, no because it soon becomes clear he sees no need to do so. He says he is not the monster as history portrays him. He is a man with his logic, his truth behind everything he did who could quote from Nietzsche, Heidegger, Schiller – and Shakespeare. He says proudly, “I am what I am” and “I’m a doer, not a talker.”
Like truth itself stalking his ego, is a screen behind the man and woman – and look, cattle trucks disgorging haggard, fearful Jewish men, women and children, huddling in family groups, clutching each other as they are pushed along. Then his voice. “Left! Right!” as he divides family groups, forced to separate by rifle-toting soldiers impervious to tears and frantic pleas. For what are families but shackles? Jews, who have the nerve to call themselves “the chosen people” rule the world with money, must be obliterated. The girl says that they have been in those trucks for 6 – 18 days with no food, no water, no means to get out and the dead at their feet. No matter, dead or alive they all burn the same way. The Jews have no fight, no spirit, he says and asks where is their stoicism, their resilience, their courage to accept their fate. Doesn’t Nietzsche say, “To live is to suffer; to survive is to find some meaning in suffering”? Where’s the fortitude of these scum to accept that?
She is soothing, probing, questioning and persistent. He, on the other hand, claims he deserves to have been saved to live out his life in South America and from the sea because he’s a hard-working intelligent doctor of medicine and anthropology. Is he? It’s not that being a doctor is much more than giving people a pat on the head and ten minutes of time, or saving people who don’t want to be saved really. After all he never personally harmed anyone and positively loves children and they him. The aged and the sick should be let go. After all, population growth will exhaust earth’s resources which are not infinite. Who are we to deny euthanasia? What we need is order not the chaos there is, to dig out the impurities and instil genetic quality and biological purity in the human race, to weed out the impure and polluted and aim for a world without disease or blemish. Get rid of them all like the depraved who cause AIDS. Decisions had to be made and he was the man to make them. The answers were experimentation on the living and 6 million up in smoke – chimney smoke. In the end they had to hurry things up to meet the quotas but it was working for the good of mankind. Like a psychiatrist she, the “peasant”, the “mere woman”, continues to ask “How did that make you feel?” He resents the question but finally says, “Proud”. He rests. She, Azra’il, sings a Jewish song. He says it’s not “proper music”. Wagner hated Jewish music. His is proper music – Wagner who identified the Jewish problem years before Hitler was on the scene and is said to have used the term “the final solution”. The woman produces some surprising things out of her box and gradually, gradually unravels the man. She knows who he is and what he is. He will know who she is too.
Imagine playing that role without making the man a monster. Imagine a man with utter conviction that what he did was for the good of mankind and that he believes that any criticism makes him the victim. Imagine playing the woman teasing out the truth, pandering to his bad temper and reluctance to talk, offering the chance for remorse with her persistent “How did it make you feel?” but stone-walled by absolute unassailable belief that he was right. Well these two performers, with technician Lucy Mitchell, do a very good job indeed. Mengele is played by Tim Marriott in a tour de force and the fine actress Stefanie Rossi realises the woman beautifully.
Everyone in the Bakehouse Theatre is on trial during this play. The audience, subdued by the sheer power of the writing and the mastery of the performances, sits seemingly stunned by what they are hearing, but we all chose to see this play because we have a need to know and the actors to see if they can pull it off. They certainly did. That’s theatre for you, folks. Sometimes things are hard to take but someone else has the courage to put them out there. Audiences are needed to complete the compatible association. Three cheers for the Fringe. It takes chances, exposes talent and gives audiences the opportunity to see the results.
Smokescreen Productions presents
by Tim Marriott
Venue: Bakehouse Theatre | 255 Angas Street Adelaide SA
Dates: 27 February – 17 March 2018
Tickets: $30 – $22.50