Madhouse Theater Company
May 27 – June 11, 2011
Written by John Stanton and David Robson
Directed by Seth Reichgott
Starring Amanda Grove and Robert DaPonte
Philadelphia, PA—Madhouse Theater Company is pleased to present its first major Philadelphia engagement, Playing Leni. Playing Leni will run from May 27th thru June 11th at the Adrienne Theatre Skybox, 2030 Sansom Street, 3rd floor. Opening Night will be Wednesday, June 1st at 8pm. Ticket prices range from $15 to $25 and are available at www.madhousetheater.org or by calling (267) 571-9623.
A dark comedy, Playing Leni is a fictionalized account of the capture and arrest of Leni Riefenstahl, filmmaker and propagandist for the Third Reich during World War II. Her captor, an unnamed Allied soldier, must transport Riefenstahl to a detention center. Riefenstahl, however, believes this “trip through the countryside” is the perfect opportunity to create her cinematic masterwork. Writing and rewriting her story as they travel, Riefenstahl comes face to face with the inescapable truths of war, privation, and death camps. The mystery soldier becomes jailor, confessor, and actor in Riefenstahl’s unending pursuit to produce, direct, and edit each piece of her life—blurring the lines between art and reality, ambition and conscience, innocence and culpability.
A project more than 10 years in the making, Playing Leni is the result of a collaboration between playwrights David Robson and John Stanton. Best known for her film Triumph des Willens (Triumph of the Will), trumpeting the indomitable spirit of the Nazi party, Riefenstahl’s personal and political history is much debated. Playwright John Stanton says of their subject, “What drew me to her story is the idea of how far someone is willing to go for fame and success. It’s my feeling that Leni worked for the Nazis for the acclaim, the creative power, the prestige. I don’t believe she had any real political motive.” David Robson adds, “But as the war progressed, because of her artistic work, she became inextricably linked with this terrible thing from which she could never remove herself. She was an opportunist extraordinaire, and her artistry—her brilliant ability to frame a sequence and create jaw-dropping, majestic images—is matched by her later ability to edit out the parts of her own life that she didn’t want people to know about.”
Stanton and Robson took inspiration from these ongoing themes of filmmaking and constant revision in the structure of the play, and in the creation of the unnamed soldier. Stanton says of this mystery man, “He judges her, condemns her, but at the same time plays along with her in order to get what he wants. He is a ‘flawed hero’ of sorts—a bit ‘holier than thou.’ But he gives the audience the chance to jump into Leni’s world with whatever judgments they have and still be able to ask, ‘What would I do in this situation?’ ‘Would I make the same choices Leni did?’” Robson echoes, “This is something you see on a much smaller scale every day. Television programming is full of people willing to do anything to be seen, to become famous, as one example. Where does the conscience go in all that? And the conceit of Leni’s filmmaking allows us to delve into that ambiguous world from several different angles, telling her story from several points of view, leaving the audience to decide what the truth of the matter is.”
Playing Leni’s director, Seth Reichgott, believes this kind of unending examination is at the heart of the story. “Playing Leni is really about how we all as individuals rewrite and reedit our own memories and our own experiences so that we can live with ourselves and the decisions we’ve made. One of the challenges that the play takes on is to create some kind of sympathy for Leni, so that we can somehow understand why she did what she did and ask ourselves if we would have acted any differently. That’s one of those amazing things theatre can do, and it’s one of the things about the play that I am most looking forward to exploring. I think Playing Leni is going to make audiences think as much about themselves as about Leni.”
John Stanton (Playwright): John founded Madhouse Theater Company in 2000. Madhouse has since produced a number of his plays, including Headcase, No Show, 3Sum, and Playing Leni. John was also a contributor and producer of Madhouse’s popular late night shows, Saturday Night Special and Late Night Snack. In addition, John is a musician and songwriter. His band, Tuchus, plays around the Philadelphia area. In his spare time, John teaches comedy writing.
David Robson (Playwright): David is the author of award-winning plays, including American Child, Man Measures Man, and A Few Small Repairs, which was recently published. He is the recipient of two grants and two fellowships from the Delaware Division of the Arts. His work has been performed across the country and abroad. Robson’s many books for young readers include The Murder of Emmett Till, Auschwitz, and The Black Arts Movement.
Seth Reichgott (Director): Seth is a Philadelphia-based actor, director, and writer. In recent years Seth has acted with the Wilma Theater, InterAct, Lantern Theater, Cape May Stage, Belligerent Muse, Arden Theatre, and Mum Puppettheatre, among others. He has directed for Cape May Stage, Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble, and the National Theatre of the Performing Arts. Seth has twice been a co-recipient of Philadelphia’s Barrymore Award for Outstanding Ensemble, and was nominated for a 2010 Helen Hayes award for Outstanding Actor. Each year Seth tours his solo Greek mythology show, Chariot of the Sun, to elementary and middle schools across New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Delaware. He is a graduate of Wesleyan University and the Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre.