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Augustana Observer

    Akvavit Theatre to perform ‘Hitler on the Roof’

    A section of the Akvavit Theatre mission statement reads: “Seeking the universal through the voices of contemporary Nordic playwrights, Akvavit Theatre is a kind of homecoming, a connecting back to the lands whose people and cultures have for generations been a part of the great prairies of North America that we call home.”
    This coming week, Akvavit Theatre will be bringing this connection between Nordic and American traditions to Augustana’s campus in the performance of “Hitler on the Roof” by Rhea Leman.
    According to Akvavit Theatre Co-Artistic Director Kristin Franklin, the Chicago-based group has been annually producing translated Nordic plays since 2011, though the group has existed since 2009.
    “We are a small by might company,” Franklin said in an email interview. “We do not typically take shows on the [road]…this is a new journey for us, but something we are interested in doing more of.”
    Franklin explained that the theatre frequently produces US premiers. In fact, the group premiered “Hitler on the Roof” last summer.
    Much like the group performing it, “Hitler on the Roof” is unique and attention-grabbing. The show explores the fictional lives of two historical figures from Nazi Germany, Joseph Goebbels, and Leni Riefenstahl, years after the war has ended in a comedic fashion.
    Amber Robinson, Akvavit Theatre Co-Artistic Director, explained through email that “Hitler on the Roof” makes use of real historical figures to ask hard questions about the reality of World War II and the actions that can affect nations and even the whole world.
    “…the horrible truth is that real-life people made choices based in the most human of impulses – ambition, self-delusion, fear of failure – and millions were sent to their deaths. In the end, the play is an examination of the forces that can change a culture and a nation for better or worse, and our personal responsibility in the face of that,” Robinson said.
    According to Robinson, the questions posed by “Hitler on the Roof” also related to current events that are happening around the world today and mimic those that occurred during World War II.
    “For anyone paying attention to current events, these questions are more than theoretical – we literally have neo-nazis marching in the streets. Right here in the US,” Robinson stated.
    Dr. Mark Safstrom, professor of Scandinavian Studies at Augustana, shares similar sentiments about the show’s timely nature. In Dr. Safstrom’s opinion, “Hitler on the Roof” highlights some major tensions that exist in the world today in regards to nationalism and immigration.
      “…juxtapose [the historical context of the show] with present day. [There are] all kinds of issues about fear of immigrants, resurgence of nationalism, you know, these are timely topics in the United States,” Dr. Safstrom said.
    “Hitler on the Roof” was written by a Danish playwright, and so, Dr. Safstrom explained, the show is set in the context of the Danish struggle with these ideas. In fact, Dr. Safstrom thinks that the show really reflects on Europe’s current standing in terms of nationalist ideals.
    “Nowadays, you have a rise of nationalism because of, for instance, things like the Syrian refugee crisis [and], in general, immigration to Europe,” Dr. Safstrom began. “There are societal discussions about…‘can we have immigrants come here and not be changed by that?’, and ‘can we do it productively?’”
    While the show certainly does have a social impact, Dr. Safstrom also thinks that it highlights the interdisciplinary values that are so important to a liberal arts education. Being able to combine Theatre Arts and History is just one example of the ways in which this play creates connections.
    “[“Hitler on the Roof”] is…one of these great examples of how what we learn at a liberal arts college like Augustana applies to the real world. Here we have an example of theatre and history and cultural studies, coming together to talk about contemporary issues in a very provocative way,” Dr. Safstrom stated.
    By setting the stage for a dialogue about the hard questions that are plaguing the minds of nations worldwide, as well as providing a platform for Augustana’s liberal arts values,“Hitler on the Roof” is sure to bring an important message to the campus community.

    “What playwright Rhea Leman has done so brilliantly in “Hitler On The Roof”,” Robinson began, “is give the audience an opportunity to face their fears, to think deeply on what terrifies us about our past and our present, and then take a moment to laugh together, to breathe.”
    “Hitler on the Roof” will be shown on Apr. 19-20 in the Black Box Theatre at 7:30 pm. Tickets are free to the public.

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    Akvavit Theatre to perform ‘Hitler on the Roof’