Oh, Those Beautiful Weimar Girls
nytheatre.com review by Lisa Ferber
November 22, 2008
This is one terrific show. Conceived and directed by Ildiko Nemeth, Oh, Those Beautiful Weimar Girls! is a cabaret style tribute to Weimar Era erotic sensation Anita Berber. This production by the New Stage Theatre Company brings Weimar decadence to the stage of CSV Cultural Center, with a dark, sparkling set by Jason Strum and dazzling costumes by Javier Bone-Carbone. Choreography is by Peter Schmitz and downtown icon Julie Atlas Muz, who always knows how to put on a show.
The Weimar Era in Berlin, 1919-1933, offered a distinctly hedonistic, erotic, rebellious period in the arts. This encompassed the time when Germany was still struggling with the aftermath of World War I, and includes the beginning of Hitler's ascent to power. This show was inspired by biographer Mel Gordon's book The Seven Addictions and Five Professions of Anita Berber, which dubs Berber "Weimar Berlin's Priestess of Depravity." There is a fair amount of nudity and tons of erotic implication here, without a touch of vulgarity or crassness.
There are numerous dance numbers here, all delightfully performed in dazzling outfits (silver shorts with matching sparkly shoes; a bra and skirt made of pearls; corsets, of course; and many tassels abounding throughout). Much of the music is from thematic secondary sources: Klaus Nomi's "Can't Help Falling in Love," a waltz by Brahms, and Kurt Weill's "Tango Habanera (Youkali)" to name a few.
The staging has viewers sitting on both sides, taking advantage of the open space of the venue. This is pure fun cabaret and constantly entertaining. Anita Berber is played wickedly and tauntingly by Sarah Lemp, who knows how to own this role. With slim, pointed features and bobbed red hair like Berber's, Lemp cavorts around the stage with sass. And she delivers her lines, as do all cast members here, with a We're-All-Going-to-Die-So-Let's-Have-Some-Fun freedom.
While the show is mostly dance and music, the dialogue by Mark Altman is sharp and funny in that dry, weltzschmerz, over-it way. Samples include: "We used to have a first-class army. Now we have first-class perversion. The entire city of Berlin had been turned into a penny candy store brothel." And this bit of dialogue between Berber and a countess she is trying to seduce. The woman says, "If my husband found me here, he would whip me." Berber replies, "If you wanted to be whipped, why didn't you tell me."
And when the countess says, "Well, this is a gala day," Berber returns with, "That's all right. A gal a day is enough for me." And how about this little exchange: "You're repulsive." "But I have the best drugs." "I think I love you."
Through it all, a journalist is watching and describing to the audience what he sees in Berber: "Anita despised all men. Especially the ones who worshiped her. She thought even less of women."
When Berber attempts to seduce the journalist, it shows what property she has become. "If you want, you can sleep with me. You have nothing to worry about. I'm clean. And I make love good." He responds. "I can't make love to you. I believe you make love good. But you belong only to yourself." "Quite the contrary."
The journalist tells the audience, "We danced with the awareness that we danced on thin ice. We didn't ask any questions. The world had become crowded and lonely."
Images of the impending World War ll are present throughout, and the ending is simultaneously creepy yet joyful in its beckoning to dance. Overall, a well-produced, highly watchable night of indulgence.