"Sexing Hitler" Wins Fringe Hangover

It's official! Sexing Hitler is Best of Fringe and will have one more performance at Fringe Hangover, 3:00pm, Sunday, July 29 at the Off Center Theatre in Crown Center. It's your positively last chance to see this show.

UPDATE: Sexing Hitler was the third best attended play of the 2012 Kansas City Fringe Festival.  Thank you cast, crew, volunteers, and Fringe staff for making all of this possible, and most of all everyone that came to see our show.

"Sexing Hitler" Loves the Fringe

The cast and crew of "Sexing Hitler" talks about the Kansas City Fringe Festival

"Sexing Hitler" Review by Robert Trussell

Oh, those crafty Nazis.

In 1940, designers and fabricators at a factory in Dresden set to work making inflatable sex dolls for the troops because fine young specimens of German manhood were falling prey to the ravages of syphilis via Parisian prostitutes.

Sounds preposterous, I know, but this strange story was documented in Graeme Donald’s 2010 book, “Mussolini’s Barber.” The program was carried out under the supervision of Heinrich Himmler, who later suspended it. Regrettably, none of the “gynoids” survived the Dresden fire bombing.

This curious bit of history is the point of departure for “Sexing Hitler,” a new play by Bryan Colley and Tara Varney. The playwrights choose to avoid a conventional narrative in favor of a sort of meta-theatrical, vaudevillian style, which serves the material well.

The show, directed by Varney, is preceded by a rhyming prologue performed by Himmler (Andy Garrison) and the story is told through a series of vignettes punctuated by a live band – Kyle Dalquist, Sergio Moreno and Richard Walker, who composed the music with Christian Hankel. The 60-minute performance concludes with an epilogue.

There are times when this approach works brilliantly, thanks in large part to actor/choreographer Amy Hurrelbrink, who plays the Doll. She also plays Himmler’s mistress, but her performance as the Doll is what everyone will remember. The lithe, limber Hurrelbrink is apparently light as a feather, judging by how effortlessly actors carry her across the stage.

The Doll is initially seen with a white mask in place of a face, but it gradually becomes more unnervingly human as the play explores questions about standards of beauties, the nature of love and our shared humanity – or lack thereof. Hurrelbrink delivers an exceptional, mime-based performance.

The play depicts the doll’s development and creation by sculptor Arthur Rink (Parry Luellen) and Senta Schneider (Marcie Ramirez), an expert in textiles. A low-key, poignant love affair develops between these two, but, the play implies, they do not survive the Dresden bombing.

Playing multiple German soldiers is Eric Tedder, a dancer/actor who is quietly charismatic and exhibits flashes of a wicked sense of humor. Garrison chooses pomposity as Himmler’s defining characteristic and Hankel plays a succession of eugenicists in broad, comic style.

Varney and Colley have demonstrated an interest in weird corners of Nazi history before. This time most of the essential elements come together in a memorable piece of theater. If it’s less polished than we might prefer, it reflects the nature of KC Fringe shows, which have to be done fast and cheap.

Read more here: http://www.kansascity.com/2012/07/26/3726818/fringe-fest-sexing-hitler-unconventional.html#storylink=cpy

from the Kansas City Star

"Sexing Hitler" Review by Detailer

Wonderful in every respect. It is hard for me to single out specifics because I liked every moment so much. The entire show is well-conceived and ably executed, and that is an understatement. Writers / directors Bryan Colley and Tara Varney crafted a splendid script, and nurtured actors and designers to bring it to life with perfection. Kudos to everyone involved with this outstanding production.

Heinrich Himmler decides that the soldiers need dolls to keep them from contaminating themselves with lesser humans. The program identifies resources for the true story about how the Third Reich invented inflatable pleasure dolls.

With that idea, we are in for rollicking good fun that hides the evil beneath. What I especially like about this script is that the evil is gradually exposed. There is a moment that punches me in the stomach, very similar to how I feel at the end of a certain song in Cabaret.

Andy Garrison as Himmler appropriately takes command of the stage, and sets the bar extremely high for excellent acting. He starts the gimmick of ending every scene with an actor’s gesture, and others follow suit, including the doll even when she is motionless during the scene. This gimmick fits the style of the show beautifully and humorously. It is very meaningful when Andy quits doing this gesture. His Johnny Carson-style monologue is one of the highlights. Starts out hilarious, and ends with thoughts to stop my breath.

Marcie Ramirez and Parry Luellen as the scientists who manufacture the doll build their humorous interplay into a sweet relationship that becomes an important symbol of hope at the end. Their opening scene in which they discuss how to design the doll is filled with their own awkward attraction, and the technical talk is very funny because of the well-defined subtext. One of Parry’s funny lines is questioning what he can tell his mother when she asks about his work. Parry’s thinking scene is a wonderful moment. He takes long enough to make me uncomfortable, which is the point. Yet he fills it with enough variety to keep me hooked. I can tell he is thinking because of his acting skills.

Eric Tedder and Christian Hankel portray various characters with distinctively different personalities, all very well done.

Amy Hurrelbrink plays both Himmler’s love interest and the doll, and does both parts with perfection. She choreographed the dances, as well, and all of her movements as the doll are amazing to watch. Her doll’s movements show different personalities and moods.

The crew also includes Ryan Puff as stage manager, Shane Rowse as technical director, and Diane Bulan as archivist. Kyle Dahlquist, Christian Hankel, Sergio Moreno, and Richard Walker provide music which adds to the fun. At one point Marcie and Parry react to a music cue; another time the band plays Somewhere Over the Rainbow when the soldier is dancing with his doll Dorothy.

The directors’ notes say that they allowed the cast to come up with the ending, and that changed from their original writing. As well as the rest of the script is done, I would imagine the writers’ original ending is excellent. But I do like the juxtaposition of Himmler’s perfect baby with the couple’s decision. Two visions of what the new Germany should be.

from KC Stage

"Sexing Hitler" Review by Karen Hauge

Just when you thought you knew everything there was to know about the Nazis, here comes Sexing Hitler, the nearly unbelievable true story of a team of scientists’ efforts to create a lifelike inflatable sex doll for Nazi soldiers to carry with them into battle. A concept like that almost defies the need for a review to garner fresh audiences, but I will digress over what was truly a must-see Fringe debut.

The year is 1941, and Nazi SS Heinrich Himmler (Andy Garrison) is presented with a problem: his soldiers are being threatened off the field as well as in battle. The culprit? Why, syphilis, of course, which is running rampant through the troops due to their unwavering patronage of French prostitutes. Himmler sets Dresden scientists Dr. Arthur Rink (Parry Luellen) and Senta Schneider (Marcie Ramirez) to an unusual and top secret task: to create a lifelike inflatable doll for soldiers to enjoy instead of the prostitutes, thereby keeping the troops healthy and strong enough for battle. The incredible ridiculousness of this idea is echoed in the musings of the scientists, who struggle to make a doll that is lifelike and satisfying, not only to keep soldiers healthy but also to prevent the conception of any children with the blood of a good German man and a dirty French whore.

The one-act, hour-long play is darkly funny and well composed, with a cast of six and a small band providing quirky reactive and mood-setting music. Off Center Theatre is bare, the only props being a few black boxes moved around between scenes by the actors. The actors’ performances are universally excellent, and naming standouts is impossible. Garrison as Himmler is deeply funny as the leader demanding feminine perfection in the doll; his character also functions as a narrator, speaking in verse (and I do love a good rhyme scheme) and sits down for interludes with various eugenicists from around the world, played with hilarious variety by Christian Hankel. Hankel delivers the sometimes shocking quotes of these scientists with earnestness that served to highlight the cruel reality of the worldwide history of race-purifying endeavors.

Luellen as the quivering, unimaginative Dr. Rink is perfectly awkward as he experimented uncomfortably with the idea of a sex doll, and his dynamic with Ramirez as his no-nonsense, insightful colleague is appropriately quirky. Eric Tedder and Amy Hurrelbrink play multiple roles throughout to great effect, with Tedder portraying various soldiers given the dolls to “test out” and Hurrelbrink playing Himmler’s mistress as well as each iteration of the doll, which comes to life as the fantasy of each soldier.

Sexing Hitler is definitely a must-see for its combination of ridiculous hilarity and truly fascinating historical material. The use of adult language and subject matter leads me to advise against bringing your children, but get a babysitter and come down to Off Center for a night with a very original new play.

from KC Metropolis

"Sexing Hitler" Review by kellyluck

The history of the inflatable sex doll is a grotesque but interesting one. As far back as the seventeenth century, sailors were carrying homemade "Dames de Voyage" with them on long trips. In the 20th century, we begin to see commercially manufactured ones, with careful attention to detail extending so far as fluid secretions by way of concealed pumps, etc. But the inflatable doll we generally think of nowadays traces its origin straight back to the Third Reich, where it was developed as a means to combat the ongoing threat of syphilis. It is this story that Sexing Hitler tells with wit, thoughtfulness, and yes, even a little charm.

Heinrich Himmler (Andy Garrison gleefully strutting the line between swagger and camp) orders Dr. Arthur Rink (Parry Luellen) and Senta Schneider (Marcie Ramirez) to develop a "comforter" for the troops so they will stop patronizing French Prostitutes. "We are losing more men to the 'French disease' than to the French guns!" Despite the sheer awkwardness of the assignment, the two work together, managing to produce an item and begin putting it through the rigorous testing with a series of soldiers (all played ably by Eric Tedder), each of which reacts to the doll in his own way. As the project drags on, and more and more uncomfortable truths about gender and sexuality are dragged to the light by way of the doll, Himmler becomes impatient. He wants - demands - the doll be more than a simple comforter. It must be an inspiration, a very model of the Germany to come. It must be the muse that sends the men forward across Europe and the world.

The creative team behind the play are no strangers to the Fringe, and their experience shows. Bryan Colley and Tara Varney have written some very memorable productions, and this will no doubt be another one. The script is sly, witty and incisive and even sympathetic by turns. Interspersed with the historical events portrayed (it is based on the actual history of the doll) are a series of rather notorious quotations on eugenics by various intellectuals and luminaries, performed by Christian Hankel. These provide perspective as the researchers labor to build the Aryan Dream.

Special notice must be given to Amy Hurrelbrink, who doubles as The Doll, and as Haschen Potthast, Himmler's secretary/mistress who ultimately becomes its model. She flips between the roles easily, morphing from gynoid to tittering arm candy almost without break. It is interesting to compare the dual roles: as the story progresses, each becomes the template upon which others impress their desires. In a play filled with strong performances, she is nonetheless a standout.

It takes a certain nerve to pull off something like this, not to mention a not inconsiderable amount of skill. Fortunately, the story is in excellent hands. Definitely a highlight of this year's Fringe, Sexing Hitler is not to be missed.

from KC Stage

"Sexing Hitler" The Rehearsal Process

The cast and crew of "Sexing Hitler" describe the rehearsal process.

"Sexing Hitler" Creating the Play

The cast and crew describe the creation of "Sexing Hitler."

"Sexing Hitler" Cast and Crew Introduction

Meet the cast and crew of "Sexing Hitler", playing July 20-28, 2012 at the Kansas City Fringe Festival.

KC Fringe Festival 2012 program

Program designed for the 2012 Kansas City Fringe Festival.
Cover art by Ryan Haralson.
Check here for a pdf.

"View from the Bench: Two Weeks as a Reality Show Drama Critic" by Kelly Luck

Great article about Project Playwright from the judge's perspective.
"AUTHENTIC BOXING", proclaims the sign outside the building as I pull up, emblazoned above a silhouette raising its gloved hands in triumph. For a moment, I wonder if I am at the right place. But no, around the corner of the building, a more modest sign is hung by the door: "Project Playwright". It is this that has brought me down to the West Bottoms on a balmy Saturday night. The parking lot is beginning to fill up already, and a few people are standing outside, catching the last rays of dying sunshine before the show begins.
read it at KC Stage