Degenerate Art was the name of the infamous exhibition mounted in Nazi Germany in 1937 that displayed the priceless treasures looted by the Nazis and destroyed the reputations of many modern artists, especially Jews, Communists, abstract painters, and expressionists, among others.
In his play of the same name, writer/director Tony Schmitz explores the notion of art as seen through the prism of Fascist Germany in the mouthpieces of the twice-rejected art student Hitler (Henry Nixon) and his henchmen Goering (Giles Gartrell-Mills), Goebbels (Schmitz), Himmler (Guy Edmonds), and Speer (Septimus Caton). Reinhard Heydrich, the main architect of the Holocaust, is played by Rupert Reid.
As she takes us through the years of 1921 to the end of the fascist regime in 1945, narrator Megan O’Connell softens the impact of the loudly aggressive men in black who harangue the audience with their extreme views.
She takes us on a trip through the status of art in Europe in those years, and major events like the 1936 Olympics, Kristallnacht, and the Paris World Fair, but we are always left with a feeling of menace, which culminates in one of the men in black confronting a female audience member sitting in the front row.
The claustrophobic Old Fitz Theatre provided the ideal space for the black message of this work, while the simple sets by Maya Keys and lighting by Alexander Berlage add subtle complexity to the relentless haranguing of the fascist claque.
This is an intellectually challenging play with a strong message for present-day audiences; it is definitely not for the faint-hearted theatre-goer expecting to be pleasantly entertained.
Until Nov 4. Old Fitz Theatre, 129 Dowling St, Woolloomooloo. $45-$60+b.f. Tickets & Info: www.redlineproductions.com.au
Reviewed by Irina Dunn.