The Last Game Show thetaer review www.hudsoncity.netYesterday March 26, 2000 I saw the play “The Last Game Show” at the Spectrum Theater in Rosslyn. It was put on by Horizon’s Theatre [ ......... "We believe we're the oldest women's theater in the nation still in operation," says Leslie Jacobson, Horizon's artistic director, founding member and chair of the department of theater and dance at George Washington University].

The premise of the play is a game show set in Purgatory in which the winner goes to Heaven and the loser goes to Hell; there’s a master of ceremonies and a card girl; the two contestants are Hannah Arendt and Martin Heidegger. The MC and the girl also switch into roles of historical figures, which the female actor does especially well. The stage set is that of a game show including the applause and boo signs to manipulate the audience .The play was thought provoking and the acting was well done .......... but/and:

I had read Arendt’s book on totalitarianism and some of her “New Yorker” reports on the Eichmann trial; I’ve admired her character for making true but unpoular statements and for withstanding those who attacked her when she didn't white wash communism but showed its parallels to Nazism. But I knew nothing of her personal life. I also knew nothing about Heidegger except that he was a philosopher who was in a high position at a German university when the Nazis came to power and resigned the position shortly after the Nazis took over.

According to the play [and apparently historically correct] she was about 15 years younger than he. While she was his student - at age 18 - she and he became lovers, although he was already married and had several children. In 1929, before the Nazis took over, Heidegger broke off the relationship, she married the first of several husbands and wound up teaching in the US, mostly in NYC. According to the play he wasn't just a philosopher but the most important philosopher of the 20th century.

The Last Game Show www.hudsoncity.netThe game was to have them reveal the “truth” about the moral decisions each had made during their lives and so to determine the “winner” who would go to Heaven, while the other one would go to Hell. The author presented Heidegger in an almost totally negative light [which doesn't match up with what I knew about him] but also presented “evidence against” Arendt.

I enjoyed the play; as I said it was thought provoking ..... so much so that several times I wanted to stand up and confront or contradict the author. I'm writing here about some of my “buts” that I couldn't express during the show.

After the war Heidegger was banned by the de-Nazification groups, forbidden to teach and, because of a blacklist, not able to publish. During the year he had been rector of the university under the Nazis, he had followed the Nazi rules and dismissed Jewish students and teachers. Although he gave up the position after less than a year, he never left the party, saying that if he had done so, he would have flagrantly stuck out and been persecuted. At least one expelled professor apparently stayed out of the concentration camps through Heidegger’s influence; he wasn't allowed to teach or publish but maintained his freedom to research.

 After the war that professor - in the play, I don’t know about reality - was one of those criticizing Arendt for considering translating a book of Heidegger’s and into whose mouth the author put the line about Heidegger: “He must be silenced” ...which, in my perception, is the opinion of the author. No comment about this blacklisting and silencing of Heidegger being an imitation of the Nazis suppressing academic freedom.

A friend of mine who’ s Belgian liked commenting - jokingly - that during the German occupation individuals in Belgium suffered less than those in other countries like Holland. He claimed that one of the biggest reasons was that the Dutch and the Germans were good record keepers; the Belgians were sloppy record keepers and the Germans couldn't easily use the Belgian records for deportations and jailings. When Arendt was writing about the Eichmann trial, she pointed out that in many places there were Jewish sub-organizations operating under the Nazi authorities that helped the Nazis. This included aiding the Nazi authorities in gaining information and cooperation that made it easier to kill such a large number of people. In this play the example is the leader of the head of the Budapest Jews; [in the play Ghetto, for example, it was the operator of the factory and the head of the Jewish police in Vilnius. ]

The author uses this as a charge against Arendt, to allege that Arendt was a self hating anti semitic Jew. But Arendt hadn't written that the Jews who aided the Nazis did it to destroy themselves; and she certainly didn't suggest that they were, therefore, to blame for the Holocaust and not the Germans; the Jews who tallied numbers up and made lists did not know how extreme the result of their actions was going to be until it was too late. Yet the author portrays Arendt’s as an anti-semite and somehow “guilty” because she dared raise an unpleasant topic.

Because of the day I saw this, another scene made an especial impression on me. In one very theatrical scene based upon “Password” [the television game they play keeps changing] Heidegger is supposed to give a response to “things you wear on the lapel”. He doesn't come up with the “right” answer [Nazi party badge] and the Arendt character goes into an emotional frenzy. I saw this play on Sunday, the day Putin, high ranking member of the Soviet Communist party and former head, or one of the heads, of the Soviet secret police was elected President. I’ve noticed little or no comments in the papers about his Communist Party membership and secret police background; I thus especially noted the hatred the author directs against Heidegger who was a minor Nazi party member, active for one year.

Not another “but” ............but a note: the audience was relatively small; it was made up mostly of a group from the American Association of Woman Professors that was holding a convention in Washington. [In fact, if they hadn't come, the audience would have consisted of me and about 10 other people.] In the scene where the 35 year old professor Heidegger seduces the 18 year old student Arendt, there is a throw away laugh line from Heidegger at the blackout: Of course, this will not affect your grade. I heard the giggles mixed with hrummphs of the audience at this outrage of a man using his power on a naive helpless girl who was under his authority. But as I was sitting there with a large group of female academicians in a feminist theater group watching a feminist play, I was wondering: a year and a half ago, how many of these women, many of whom are NOW members, had been actively protesting a 50 years old president seducing a 20 year old girl?

And a final minor but irritating point: The setting is Purgatory and the winner goes to Heaven and the loser to Hell. Got that? Well the writer didn't, since in reality, nobody goes to Hell from Purgatory; if she’s going to use a conceit she should be consistent in her handling of it.

As I said at the beginning, the play was performed well and it was interesting; there were consistent manipulations of history by the author, however, that I found intrusive, questionable and/or irritating.


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