It only seats 236 people, has a staff of just seven and manages a budget of less than $1 million. But don’t underestimate the Jewish Community Center’s Theater J at 1529 16th Street. The intimate venue is as good a place as any to see a show.
Through June 5, love, disappointment and forgiveness are all part of the intricate story of the relationship between philosophers Hannah Arendt (Elizabeth Rich) and Martin Heidegger (John Lescault) that award-winning playwright Kate Fodor brings to life at Theater J. The JCC should be applauded for bringing the intellectually stimulating Hannah and Martin, which deals with difficult issues in the post-Holocaust era, to D.C.
Hannah and Martin is based on Arendt’s relationship with Heidegger from the 1920s until shortly after World War II. During that time period, Arendt is both a student of and a mistress to the great philosopher Heidegger. Arendt, a German Jewish citizen, is later forced to flee Germany because of the Nazi regime that Heidegger supports. Eventually, Arendt is faced with meeting Heidegger after WWII and coming to terms with her ensuing feelings of anger and disappointment, which conflict with the love she used to have for her teacher.
The set is bare with only minimal furnishings, but the real focus of the d?cor is the backdrop. Inscribed in the set is the script of a letter Arendt writes to German universities in support of Heidegger after the war, despite his Nazi affiliation. The letter is a main focus of Hannah and Martin’s story, as the play begins with Arendt writing it, and then flashes back to show how she came to be in this position.
The relationship between Arendt and Heidegger is one that is shrouded in so many rumors that it is difficult to find authoritative information on the subject. Despite this limitation, playwright Fodor does an excellent job delivering a balanced interpretation of the story that forces audience members to formulate their own conclusions about Arendt’s decision, rather than guiding them to a conclusion. Though the program states that dramatic liberties are taken, these do not detract from the overall picture and themes presented, and they do not provide easy answers to the difficult questions at hand.
Rich and Lescault’s performances are brilliant, making the play come alive through excellent script delivery, body language and chemistry between the actors. Though some comedic moments seem strained, they’re necessary to provide some relief in a play that is otherwise serious and emotionally demanding.
Hannah and Martin is sure to raise more questions than it will provide answers, but this is precisely the intention of this thought-provoking, engaging play.
Hannah and Martin will be at Theater J in the D.C. Jewish Community Center until June 5. For tickets, call 800-494-TIXS.