‘Hannah and Martin’

Theatre Intime at Princeton University stages Kate Fodor’s award-winning play, set against the background of the Nuremberg trials.

By: Stuart Duncan

Amy Widdowson and Jed Peterson star in Theatre Intime’s production of Hannah and Martin.

   You may not have heard of Kate Fodor; she is a first-time playwright, a very important one, I suspect, and her premiere work, Hannah and Martin, has caused quite a stir. For one thing, it was produced in Washington, D.C., earned sensational reviews from the critics there, won the Kennedy Center Prize for new American plays and is now in Princeton at Theatre Intime on the University campus in a wonderful staging, but only for a single weekend.
   The plot is wrenched from true life. It’s the story of Martin Heidegger, a brilliant German teacher and philosopher who became a leader for Hitler’s Third Reich, and Hannah Arendt, a German Jew, a fine philosopher in her own right, who came to America to escape the Nazi regime and became a leading voice against what she called "the banality of evil." The pair became colleagues, illicit lovers and, in time, the subject of a much-researched relationship. Ms. Fodor’s play is about ideas, of course, but it as much about that relationship. Heidegger was a much admired philosophy professor at the University of Marburg when Arendt sought him out to learn how to think critically. He was married, the father of two sons and a most demanding teacher, fiercely committed to the ideals of the German university system.
   As Heidegger took on ever-increasing powerful positions under Hitler, the question became how could so brilliant a thinker accept the musings of an uneducated leader such as Der Fuehrer. For Arendt, the questions also involved her Jewish heritage. It is compelling material that playwright Fodor handles with exceptional ease.
   The production at Intime is as fine as any done in the area this season. Amy Widdowson, as Hannah, and Jed Peterson, as Martin, will take you to the Germany of post-World War I with gentle ease. In the Washington staging of the work, Heidegger was played "with stentorian authority." Not so for Mr. Peterson, who finds a more natural way to project his commanding style. He is every inch a German and a teacher, but he is not a screamer — that would weaken his authority. Ms. Widdowson is breathtaking as Hannah, searching softly for truths, passionately determined. The simple scene of the couple’s first kiss is as intense as any written — or played.
   The others in the cast — cameo roles, in truth — are as carefully cast by director Tarryn Chun: Anne Preis as Heidegger’s wife; Alex Limpaecher, as Gunter Stern; Andy Hoover and Bridget Durkin as Karl and Gertrud Jaspers, fellow Jews, outraged that Hannah might show forgiveness toward the man Martin had become.
   It is an evening of powerful theater and may well remind one of Address Unknown, which played at George Street Playhouse about a month ago. This one is better written, the work of a writer from whom much is now expected. It deserves more than a single weekend at reunion time.
Hannah and Martin plays at Hamilton Murray Theater, Princeton University, May 26-28, 8 p.m. Tickets cost $12, $10 seniors, $6 students. For information, call (609) 258-1742. On the Web: www.theatreintime.org