SummerWorks Play Review: Hannah’s Turn, August 9

Toronto – If you were to make a list of great love affairs of the 20th century, you might not put Hannah Arendt and Martin Heidegger near the top. But Heidegger, a German philosopher who rather controversially joined and endorsed the Nazi Party in 1933, and Arendt, a Jewish thinker and student of Heidegger’s, had a torrid love affair when both were at the University of Freiburg. We know this in part because they wrote a stack of love letters to one another, which were published in English in 2004 in a book containing their correspondence from 1925 all the way to 1975.

It’s a fascinating story if you like history. Heidegger, one of the greats of 20th century existential and postmodern thought, and Arendt, his student and later a very well known political theorist herself: lovers against the backdrop of the early rise of National Socialism, a movement Heidegger joined, supposedly to try and sway it in scientific and humanitarian ways, and one which eventually forced Jews like Arendt to flee or be killed.

The play takes place both during the early days of their affair at Freiburg and much later, after Arendt moved to America and became a teacher in her own right. A Jewish student working for the University newspaper comes to her to get clarification on some comments she made about Heidegger, primarily her assertion that getting caught up in the Nazi Party was just a mistake, or an “escapade,” as she later calls it. Her defense of a man who seemed like such a strident party member, particularly when he joined, was made rector of the university, and proceeded to talk and write a great deal about Germany’s future under the führer mystifies this student, whose father was in a concentration camp. Arendt tries to show her that things just aren’t that simple, that her ideas of good and evil are just too naive, but never really changes her mind.

Richard Clarkin portrays Heidegger very well, from professor to seducer to party apologist to foregiveness seeker, and Leora Morris is adequately innocent and earnest as the student, Eva. The star is Severn Thompson as Arendt, however, who has no trouble taking her character from ingenue to worldly professor and back again, with numerous stops in between. It’s an intelligent show with a great cast, and one of the best I’ve seen at SummerWorks.

Hannah’s Turn runs through Sunday August 14th as part of SummerWorks. Check the website for schedule and tickets.

Posted on by Brian in Reviews, Summerworks, Theatre