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 Wisbars parents, who, as she discovered late in
life, were forced into divorcing by the Nazis for ideological reasons.
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 Alexandras 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. Hitlers
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.
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 Franzs history as a couple. The lack of urgency
and fire in Act One is compounded by Kiff Scholls 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 plays411.com/reddress)