Historical memory play on H. Arendt
By Davida Singer
Hannah and Martin is a historical memory play, a heady mix of fact and fiction that moves back and forth like a collage. It begins with the decision of Jewish political theorist, Hannah Arendt to renew her friendship with famed philosopher and former mentor, Martin Heidegger. Earlier, she had a torrid affair with him, before Heideggers staunch support of Nazi Germany.
Written by newcomer Kate Fodor, Hannah and Martin is running at Bank Street Theatre, and stars David Strathairn, whos been fully involved in the production.
Ive been so fortunate, Fodor informs. David heard about and read the play and was fascinated by the characters. He came on board early and had a lot of impact. Epic Theatre Center, the company itself, also has a kind of energy and aura of excitement that draws people to this. Its been quite an experience working with historical material. In the beginning, I felt bound to be accurate, but then I decided to free myself. Thats led to a highly fictional play, but Im trying to tell the core of the story as truthful historically, by giving it the spirit of who these people were.
Fodors other challenge was as a first-time dramatist at 33, after years of penning fiction, and an ongoing career as a freelance journalist. What made her turn to playwriting now?
Several of the people in the production, including director Ron Russell and lead, Melissa Friedman, were friends from college, says Fodor. Although shy, Id actually acted in college myself and loved the sense of community. The solitariness of writing is difficult for me, so even though this took years of weekends, its come more naturally than fiction, and that sense of community again has been amazing.
The project began about four years ago, after Friedman had an assignment to write a monologue about a historical figure, and came up with Hannah Arendt. Realizing the most intriguing stuff required two people because of the relationship with Heidegger, she pitched the story to Fodor, who was quickly hooked, and the two decided to collaborate.
We did a lot of research together and then I began writing intuitively, the writer recalls. I got help from Melissa and Ron (her husband), like a quick, intensive course. A couple of years in, I suddenly realized I was actually writing a play, and began plowing through every drama I could get my hands on.
Hannah and Martin, which won the Roger L. Stevens Award for New American Plays in 2002, follows the couples extramarital affair and Arendts subsequent move to study elsewhere. The war happens, they fall out of touch, and then at some post-war point, she decides to revisit the relationship.
In Arendts letters and papers, theres little that says what led to this decision, said Fodor. She was in America by then, in the public eye, and she actually helped Heidegger rebuild his career. When you know Arendt, you see a sharp, fascinating woman, who decides this in a seemingly casual way. It began to feel to me that it was a very private decision. Her real thoughts and feelings might have worked not to be scrutinized.
And what are Fodors own thoughts about the essence of the piece?
One of the central questions is about forgiveness, she said. Hannah was somebody insistent on the importance of representational thinking-looking at an idea from all sides. We had a lot of scholars and historians involved in last years workshop, and there will be discussions here after certain performances. There are some moral issues here, but the play tries not to provide easy answers. In the spirit of the characters involved, I like to think of it as a prism. Then theres the ability to put oneself in someone elses shoes-to know your enemy. I think we need this, to really try to understand. Its complicated, but I believe that morals shouldnt preclude you from making an effort to know the hearts and minds of others.