08 Fringe: “My Friend Hitler”

Zehra Fazal as “My Friend Hitler”

On the second Saturday of the 2008 Indy Fringe Festival, after a yummy dinner with friends at the new Forty-Five Degrees restaurant on the 45-degree corner of Mass. Ave. and College, I walked down to the Theatre on the Square to see “My Friend Hitler” performed by Zhera (rhymes with “Sarah”) Fazal.

I hadn’t planned to see this one-woman adaptation of the Yukio Mishima play.  Fazal gave an impressive 3-minute sample of her acting skills at the Fringe Preview Party, and I normally love one-person shows and/or anything remotely Japanese.  However, I knew I wouldn’t be able to see all 48 of the main Fringe shows, and I just thought this one would be too depressing, so I crossed it off my list.

Ironically, a woman from out of town that I met during the Fringe said that she had crossed “My Friend Hitler” off her list because she thought it would be too funny.  She said a show with a woman as Hitler would have to be funnily bad theatre, like the “Springtime for Hitler” segment in “The Producers.”  She did not want to run the risk of howling with laughter in an intimate theatre during a show that was supposed to be serious.

(“Hey!” I said when she mentioned “The Producers.”  “Have you seen it yet at Beef’n’Boards?  I loved that show!”  That’s when she told me she was from out of town.)

However, on the Friday night before this particular performance, I happened to meet Zehra Fazal when I was hanging out with some other friends at an outdoor table at the Elbow Room after the day’s shows.  She was beautiful, charming, intelligent, genuine…and even though the men I was with were drooling all over her, it didn’t make me jealous.  So I decided, “What the heck.”

I am glad that I went to see “My Friend Hitler.”  It was not funny.  All of Fazal’s femininity falls away when she takes on the Hitler persona and costume, leaving only her charisma.  It is disturbing to see for one’s self how charismatic Hitler must have been, too.

So… while her show was certainly depressing, a more accurate word is “chilling.”

Mind you, I couldn’t stay with the content of the show 100% all the way through. Some of the names and events I just couldn’t keep straight, and since Hitler was talking to other individuals that were supposedly in the room with him rather than telling a story to us, the audience, it was hard to concentrate on everything he said.

However, I did get that he thought of himself as an artist, and that he could justify all of his despicable actions in his own mind.  As I say, it was chilling.

I couldn’t help wondering: would I have been able to resist following his energy in real life?

I was glad to be sitting with a new friend, playwright Alan Jozwiak.  He is the president of the Cincinnati Playwrights Initiative.  He had taken the Mega Bus up here for only $25 and was planning to see as many shows as he could in one weekend.  In Cincinnati, he sees over 100 live theatre shows a year.  He gets in free, not by reviewing shows as I do, but by ushering.  Still, he is a man after my own heart. 

I was also delighted to be reminded that he wrote “Crazy Quilt,” a lovely play that was produced at last year’s Indy Fringe.  That was pre-blog, but I wrote about that show informally on IndianaAuditions.com here.

I learned from “My Friend Hitler” some of the background that made it acceptable in Hitler’s mind to order the execution of his good friend, Ernst Roehm.  If you get a chance to see this somber show, be sure to take a friend with you for comfort.

Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com

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