A thoughtful black comedy set in a cinderblock room, Hitler’s Tasters concerns a set of girls who have been given the honor of serving – and possibly dying for – their beloved Fuhrer.
The play is based on history: Hitler shipped in young women to his bunker headquarters in Prussia in order to test his food for poison. Ironically, Hitler was disgusted by the atrocities done to the animals in slaughterhouses, and was an avowed vegetarian. His tasters were of “good stock”, picked from military families or specially selected by Nazi brass. And while they ate lavishly in service to Hitler, survivors spoke of lasting psychological damage.
Anna, Hilda, and Liesel are introduced pouting for selfies on their phones, among the first of the the play’s smart anachronistic touches that paint the three girls as World War II millennials. They dance, they sing, they even twerk a little, but Hilda, the instigator and cruelest of the trio, always reminds them of the rules of war. They may be teenage girls who adore Frank Sinatra (taboo, since he’s American), but periodically they forget the Nazi rules, and she is always ready to rein them in. They may all be boy-crazy, but Hilda serves as the SS member among them, who has most effectively internalized the hatred and paranoia of the Nazi regime.
There’s a recurring choreography: They circle the table, hold out their hands for food trays delivered to them by soldiers off-stage, and commence eating. Their phones are set for an hour. If they survive the hour, the food isn’t poisoned, and thus deliverable to the Fuhrer. As the play wears on, the meals become more excruciating. It may be a glory to die for him, but soon they realize it comes with a price. With each long meal, they begin to wonder about friends who have disappeared, their boys on the front, and finally, the girls who came before them.
The tension between their longing for love and innocence, their joy of being young, of dances, movies, and boys, contrasts sharply with the threat of death they face at every meal. They voice agony at their plight, while similarly gushing in their adoration for Hitler. Yes, they may die, but at least they’re being served on the Fuhrer’s best china. And the enemies can’t come up with a better poison, because of Nazi superiority. They never question their own normalization of Hitler’s cruelty until he puts their lives on the line. They strain against their adoration even as they endure an existential crisis with every forkful.
Playwright Brooks is a marvel at crossing today’s headlines, and the absurdities of the Trump Doctrine, with the girls’ adoration and paranoia. “The Reich tells us what we need to know,” states Hilda. “Anything else can be false.” When Anna suggests the Fuhrer might be able to croon like a soul singer, Liesel scolds her for thinking he would do anything like a black man: “Black singers matter!” And, of course, the Fuhrer is busy making Germany great again.
When Anna disappears, she’s replaced by Margot, small, dark, perky, lacking Hilda’s overt hostility. Boredom and horror set in, and Margot pulls a prank that forces the girls to finally vocalize their deepest fears. For all their loyalties, they are utterly expendable.
Director Sarah Norris, with scene designer An-Lin Dauber have created a simple and striking set that conveys a prison environment. The play might have more succinctly explored the dissolution of rights in a dictatorship, counterbalanced with Brooks’ acerbic wit and brilliant turns of phrase. She does effectively display the dangers of demagoguery and explores what constitutes purity and innocence in a world of perpetual annihilation.
- Michelle Kholos Brooks
- Director: Sarah Norris
- Cast includes: Hallie Griffin, MaryKathryn Kopp, Kaitlin Paige Longoria, Hannah Mae Sturges
- IRT Theater
- Until 27th October 2018
- 85 minutes, no intermission