Hitler makes his case. Or doesn’t.
In “Adolf,” Pip Utton’s solo performance about the reality and legacy of the modern world’s most murderous dictator, the British actor/playwright weaves a compelling portrait of the malignant narcissist who plunged the world into World War II and methodically killed millions in concentration camps.
This performance represents the best of what to expect from producer Bob Paisley’s semi-annual British Invasion. Paisley has brought many fine performers from England, Scotland, Ireland and Australia to Kansas City. This production, like many of the others, shows the power of one good actor with a smart script and minimal production values.
In the first moments, with the stage cloaked in ominous shadows, we hear a ticking clock. All we see are a small table and chair and a red Nazi banner emblazoned with a swastika Taking the stage in a tan tunic with requisite black mustache and drooping forelock, Utton quickly makes the play’s conceit clear: This is Hitler’s farewell to his coterie of followers in the Berlin bunker. The end is near. He pledges to shoot himself and will make cyanide pills available to those who prefer a quieter exit. (Some historical accounts say he swallowed a pill and then put a bullet in his brain for good measure.) His personal pilot, Hans Baur, is on standby with an escape plane but Hitler feels duty-bound to remain.
In short order, the title character explains the philosophy and techniques that, for a relatively brief but fatal period, allowed him to come to power and execute his notions of racial purity and German pride. Much of what Utton as Hitler tells us rings with uncomfortable familiarity. For example, repeat a lie often enough and most people will believe it. Democracy is only a means to acquire power; once you’re in office democratic institutions can be done away with. He rails against all who represent what he considers the polluting influence of the “other” — Jews, gypsies, blacks, homosexuals and dark-skinned people from anywhere.
For some viewers, Hitler’s ranting may bring to mind pledges by the current occupant of the White House to build a wall on the southern border to keep out brown-skinned “rapists and criminals,” his antipathy to black people from “s—hole countries” and the falsehoods, accusations and shameless boasts streaming from his Twitter account. “Make America Great Again” seems to reverberate throughout the performance. It’s valid comparison. But Utton, who began performing a version of this piece in the 1990s, is after something bigger and deeper.
After occupying the stage for some 45 minutes as the Furher, Utton takes off his jacket, strips off his false mustache and removes his wig. “Well, that’s enough of that,” he says. He puts the audience at ease and conveys the impression that viewers are simply watching the rambling reflections of the actor decompressing after a demanding show. But there’s more to it. Much more.
As his conversational interaction with the theatergoers continues, Utton tells a few politically incorrect jokes. He waxes nostalgic about the England he once new. He voices concern about immigration.
By the final minute he is repeating Hitler’s hand gestures from earlier in the show and is framed by the Nazi banner. And he recalls an earlier line: There will be no resurrection for Hitler. Why? Because it’s not necessary. The inherent racism and embrace of fascism personified by Adolf Hitler reverberate everywhere — in the work place, in our schools, in our living rooms. In other words, it’s part of the fabric of human nature.
The SRO audience Saturday night at the Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre responded enthusiastically. But Utton, who performs all over the world, has sometimes encountered angry responses from viewers, including a woman who once slapped him in the face.
Utton was the first of four quarterly presentations Paisley is bringing this year. In a series of one-man shows this weekend Utton played Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher, the painter Francis Bacon and, of course, the former World War I corporal and failed artist who destroyed the Germany he professed to love.
“Adolf” was the only performance my schedule allowed me to catch. And I’m so glad I did.
For more information on the British Invasion schedule throughout the year, go to www.cstkc.com.