The Red Dress


Review by Willard Manus

Playwright Tania Wisbar tells a personal story in THE RED DRESS, a play set in Germany circa 1924-1936. A visiting production at the Odyssey Theatre, THE RED DRESS deals with Wisbar’s parents, who, as she discovered late in life, were forced into divorcing by the Nazis for ideological reasons.

As fictionalized by Wisbar, her parents met in a Berlin bar not long after the end of WW I. Her mother, called Alexandra Schiele (Laura Liguori), was a successful and glamorous movie star; her father, Franz Weitrek (J.B. Waterman), a homeless vet who earned a few pfennigs sketching portraits on the street. The tall, handsome Franz caught Alexandra’s eye; before long she goes from feeding him soup to falling in love with him and using her contacts to land him a job in the film industry.

Act One is mostly about their romantic relationship, which is put to the test when Hitler takes power in Germany. Alexandra detests the Nazis but Franz sides with them, more for selfish than political reasons. Hitler’s propaganda chief, Joseph Goebbels, has taken a liking to him and has offered to make him chief of his newsreel division.

In Act Two the rift between them widens when an SS officer, Dieter Keller (Dylan Wittrock), interrogates Alexandra, loudly and rudely. “Why did you wear a red dress to an awards ceremony honoring your husband?” he demands to know, snapping his riding crop against his boots. “The Nazi dress code specified you were to wear black and white attire!”

Wearing that dress was a risky act of defiance on her part, of course. But as the most popular actress in Germany she thought she could get away with it. Dieter destroys that illusion by proving, much to her surprise, that she is one-eighth Jewish, reason enough under Nazi racial laws (based on American eugenics theories, by the way) for her and Franz (an Aryan) to be punished.

Dieter, after humiliating her by making her strip and don the forbidden red dress, then offers Alexandra and Franz a deal. If the latter agrees to divorce his (newly pregnant) wife, she will be allowed to leave the country and he will be handed the cushy film job.

The test of morality and conscience in Act Two is a powerful and important one; perhaps the play should have started at that point and not so far back in Alexandra and Franz’s history as a couple. The lack of urgency and fire in Act One is compounded by Kiff Scholl’s unsure direction and by some weak projection on the part of the cast, which includes Rebecca Larsen and Shanti Reinhardt in inconsequential roles.

For these reasons, THE RED DRESS must unfortunately be considered a disappointment.

(Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd, West L.A. Call 323-960-5521 or visit