Theatre review: Third Reich Mommie
An American writer once said, “The job of the novelist is to invent: to embroider, to colour, to embellish, to make things up.”
Christopher Bryant’s latest play certainly suggests the job of the playwright is no doubt also to do just that.
The writer of Rigor Mortis, that was played to critical acclaim early in the year, takes the downfall of Hitler in April 1945 to weave together a fictitious tale of espionage and family secrets, creating an evening of sadistic joy and juicy revenge.
As the play opens, 17-year old Cassidy has discovered a new interest in a boy from school called Jock. She lives with her eccentric mother, Bridgette, a former actress, for whom the mouthy teenager has neither affection nor respect.
Behind her back, Cassidy ridicules her mother’s absurd refusal to leave the home; to her face, she openly mocks Bridgette’s aspirations to return to her glory past. Ada, their German-accented domestic help, tries to keep peace between mother and daughter even when she herself often becomes the hapless victim of their vitriolic abuse.
In what can only be a spoof of the Führer’s Third Reich, cruelty and perversion reverberate within the spartan American home: Bridgette subjects Jock to mindless labour — moving potting mix aimlessly back and forth — when she unexpectedly offers the earnest lad the part-time work he sought; and in a tit-for-tat vengeful spat, mother and daughter exchange dollops of animal offal for oven mitts dripping with freshly-butchered rabbit blood.
And so, the distraught Cassidy begins to question the veracity of her own heritage. After confiding in Ada about the recent hallucinations that seem to alter her mind, the bewildered young woman decides to solicit Jock’s aid to uncover the truth.
Daniel Lammin directs a young and talented cast, of which Bryant himself takes on the role of the sultry Bridgette to sizzling effect. His (no, her) confident droll, that combines with figure-hugging black columns and fake eyelashes, portray, if not the sacrificial spy turned inadvertent mother then, most definitely an aspirant star whose dreams had been ironically thwarted by a self-serving drive. This irony was unfortunately itself thwarted when Bryant succumbed to audience distraction in the final scene on attendance night; his performance flawless otherwise.
Trelawney Edgar’s Cassidy lets us see not only the angsty rebellion of the teenager, the sexual curiosities of adolescence, but the vulnerabilities of a confused little girl. Ashleigh Goodison likewise gives her character Ada a totally arresting persona: the German inflection (or her nearly authentic German articulations, for that matter), the distinctive Nazi-inspired gait, and her conspiracy-shrouded loyalty. And Max Attwood is entirely convincing as Jock, conveying the apple-pie naïveté of American youth, whose encyclopedia-regurgitating knowledge (in deference to the rigid principles of his
founding father) somehow managed to trounce unstabilising forces.
Despite the apparent attempt to parody Hitler’s regime, and the putative bid to satirise the West, the play somehow falls short of its full potential. Lacking in the stealthy suspense it could have created — Ada’s fidelity is dubious from the start: her costume, her language, and her callous housekeeping behaviour belie her caring, assiduous façade — the story misses the opportunity to allow the denouement to cast a chilling spell.
That said, Third Reich Mommie is a hugly entertaining play, nontheless, with a delicious enough twist at the end, even if not twisted enough.