“Surely you know how to think?”
It begins in 1946 as the now-accomplished journalist and theorist Hannah Arendt (Christina Gorman) dictates a retraction of a previous condemnation of her mentor and former lover, the 20th-century German philosopher Martin Heidegger (Lawrence Grimm), whose early advocacy for the Nazi party continues to cripple his post-war academic career possibilities. The German-Jewish Hannah cites hearsay and a merciful position to allow future students the benefit of Heidegger’s scholarship, but her assistant Alice (Jazzma Pryor) implores her to acknowledge Heidegger for who he is and for the terrible things that he did to fan, through his writings and lectures, the early flames of the rise of Hilter and the Nazi Party.
How we arrive at this point—during Arendt’s trip back to Germany to report on the Nuremberg Trial of Baldur von Schirach (Drew Schad), who orchestrated the Hitler Youth movement—is the thorny center of the Shattered Globe Theatre’s introspective revival of Kate Fodor’s “Hannah and Martin,” directed with stealth-like precision by Louis Contey. It is complicated–an illicit love affair, Nazi sympathizers, torn professional and personal relationships—and the action comes to life in Nick Mozak’s 1920s-era classroom, which signifies both the importance of scholarly pursuits and the perfection of thought for which the imminent Heidegger was widely known. Progressive views of philosophy and a romantic appreciation of Wagner make for a dangerous attraction between the teacher and the student.
A simple note comes from the professor to meet the student to discuss a paper—a paper that has “a tremendous problem right at the center of it,” a question, really, that emphasizes the idea of neighborly love and our true relationship with God according to Saint Augustine. When Hannah asks if she should submit another essay when she’s found the answer, he says, “That’s the great misconception about questions. Questions are to be asked, not necessarily answered.” There is typing to be done and even some money it. In the next quiet moment, he asks the piercing question: “Surely you know how to think?” and their intellectual association draws the two lovers together in a brief, but passionate, affair.
Contey draws fierce performances from Fodor’s work. Gorman’s Hannah has a fascinating intellectual curiosity, very present in her feelings for her mentor and torn by the conflict of his decisions even as she weighs the power inherent in her own influence at a time when Martin needs it most. Grimm, one of Chicago’s most accomplished actors, skillfully navigates Martin’s fall from grace to a much older, desperate man clinging to a flawed ideology—a state of mind that he would never abide in a student or colleague. Cortney McKenna plays Elfride Heidegger, whose early passion for the Nazi ideals is pivotal to the story. SGT Ensemble members Doug McDade (Karl Jaspers), Daria Harper (Gertrude Jaspers) and Steven Peebles (Günther Stern) round out the superb cast, playing multiple roles.
Shattered Globe’s production of “Hannah and Martin” exemplifies the struggle and painful realities of the inner-war years, the rise of the Hitler Youth movement, its impact on future generations, and the complex nature of relationships caught in the middle. When we view history through the present-day lens and knowledge, it is difficult to understand why anyone would use his influence as Heidegger did.
And though it is often disturbing, Fodor’s powerful play—and the brilliant performances of Gorman and Grimm—is in the end a touching, finely crafted love story.
SHATTERED GLOBE THEATRE
HANNAH AND MARTIN
through May 25
1229 W Belmont