By Mieko Ouchi. Directed by Donna Spencer. A Firehall Arts Centre production. At the Firehall Arts Centre until Saturday, January 27
You’d think that a story about an innovative artist working to further the ends of Adolf Hitler would provoke some compelling questions, but that’s not the case in Mieko Ouchi’s The Blue Light.
Ouchi tells the tale of Leni Riefenstahl, who established herself as a preeminent filmmaker—and propagandist—with movies such as Triumph of the Will, which captures the Wagnerian power of a Nazi party rally in Nuremberg, and Olympia, a documentary about the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
In The Blue Light, a geriatric Riefenstahl pitches a script to a young Hollywood producer. Memories and associations repeatedly bounce her back into her past.
There are moments of intense theatricality. Ouchi imagines an affair between Riefenstahl and Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda minister. Actor Sean Devine makes Goebbels perversely attractive. The simplest exchanges become erotic games of dominance and submission. “Dance with me,” Goebbels murmurs to the young Leni, looking somewhere past her, demanding her obedience.
Jack Paterson makes an intriguingly soft-spoken Fí¼hrer, but Gabrielle Rose’s performance as Leni is harder to assess. Rose expresses a remarkable range of emotion with great subtlety. I love the way her shy, young Leni plays with the neckline of her dress the first time she meets Goebbels, as if trying to cover her breasts. On the other hand, Rose can be annoyingly over the top, gasping out phrases like a Victorian diva, word by breathy word.
Rose moves well, but I could have done without the interpretive dance that opens the evening; it’s a half-baked theatrical strategy. There are other inelegant elements, too. Overnight, Hitler turns from avuncular patron into raving lunatic, for instance. Even as an expression of Riefenstahl’s possible naiveté, this turnaround feels silly.
The young executive to whom Riefenstahl is pitching is also problematic. Her conversations between the filmmaker and the executive include the play’s most direct thematic probing, which doesn’t get much deeper than: “Isn’t all art propaganda?” Of course it is—in the sense that all art expresses a particular world-view. It’s pretty clear to most of us that American values—the cult of the individual, for instance—come wrapped in American movies, right? Come on. Ask us something harder.