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Sunday, April 8, 2018

Review: 'Hitler’s Tasters' in world premiere at Centenary Stage Company

Theater-in-the-round staging with L-R Brianna Morris, Emaline Williams & Jenny Robbins

How many times have we labelled a play ‘thought provoking’? The current production at the Centenary Stage Company is a perfect example of a play that will generate discussion far beyond the drive home…at least that was our experience last night and into today.  Michelle Kholos Brooks’ Hitler’s Tasters is making its world premiere this weekend. Ms. Brooks was introduced, at the World War Two museum in Indiana several years ago, to the little know tale of Hitler’s Tasters. Specifically about a German woman, now in her late nineties, who spent most of the World War II period in the service of her country, and beloved Führer, not in any combat or normal support role but as a taster for Hitler…to literally die for the Führer (a link to her story is below).

Ms. Brooks, inspired by this horrific true story, has created a riveting tale of four of the young women who were “privileged” to serve as tasters of Hitler’s food. They ate three daily meals, waiting each time for a stressful one-hour morbid period to determine that the food was not poisoned (and to see if they survived!)

While they wait, they play, dance, gossip, and share their dreams as all young women do. In fact. Ms. Brooks insures that we recognize the similarities with our current Never Again movement by cleverly introducing the girls dancing to a modern tune and a passion for “selfies.” 

This is not a dusty tale from four generations ago, but a reminder of the danger of looking away as others are made scapegoats for our society’s perceived ills, fully failing to realize as Ms. Brooks states in her playwright’s note that “Mad Men first come for the other but when there’s no one left they turn on their own.”

Ally Bergstrom, Emaline Williams & Jennifer Robbins

Making this world premiere particularly special are the performances of the four young women. Director Sarah Norris has cast a group of remarkably talented women: Emaline Williams is the crafty Hilda; Jenny Robbins is the calm peacemaker Liesel; Brianna Morris is the somewhat naïve Anna; and Ally Bergstrom is the innocent newcomer who thinks she has been recruited to serve her Führer  for her typing skills.

Yes, it is a thought provoking dark subject, yet it is easy to fall in love with these impressive young women and the unique story.

Reviewed by Rick Busciglio   April 7, 2018

Director Sarah Norris’ production staff includes: stage manager Danielle Constance; set design Tim Golebiewski; light design Ed Matthews; sound design Jeff Knapp; technical director Jeff Chase; and costume design Ashleigh Poteat.

Hitler’s Tasters was selected after a staged reading in the 2017 Women Playwright Series. Catherine Rust is the program director of the CSC Women Playwrights Series. This year’s readings will be April 11, 18 and 25. Further information at www.centenarystageco.org.

Hitler’s Tasters runs  through April 22 in the Kutz Theatre of the Lackland Performing Arts Center. Remaining performance dates are; Fridays April 13 and 20 at 8pm; Saturdays April 14 and 21 at 8pm; Sundays April 8, 15 and 22 at 2pm; Wednesdays, April 11 and 18 at 2pm and Thursdays, April 12 and 19 at 7:30pm. Tickets are $27.50 for adults on matinee and Friday evening performances and $29.50 for adults on Saturday evening performances. Thursday evening performances are $27.50 for all seats with a buy one / get one rush ticket special when purchased in person at the Centenary Stage Company box office beginning at 5:30pm.The CSC box office is located in the Lackland Performing Arts Center at 715 Grand Avenue Hackettstown, NJ.  

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