It’s probably impossible to talk about the New Stage Theatre Company’s production of Hypnotik, now playing at Theater for the New City through January 15, without referencing Bob Fosse’s Cabaret or Chicago or even Ingmar Bergman’s The Magician or The Serpent’s Egg (which also owes a debt to Fosse). Today, when we think about the great films of the ‘70s, we usually hear more about The Godfather movies or Chinatown than Cabaret. Perhaps, because it was a stage musical first, it has had the option of going back to the theater for further exploration and incarnations (with the benefit of standing on Fosse’s shoulders). We also may fail to recall the power of its vision. Instead, we may see the brilliance of its creative team–Liza Minnelli, Joel Grey, Michael York, and Fosse himself, who would all never surpass the work they did here. (Some might say Kander and Ebb never did either: the title song, “Willkommen,” “The Money Song,” the chilling “Tomorrow Belongs to Me.”) The film, about addictions to vice and evil, also contains a message about giving into temptation that even Minnelli has learned to disavow; Cabaret (1972), the great movie musical, which spoke for its time, set in Weimar, is a hard sell for people who love movie musicals today: the young, those who want uplift, and people who just say no. Another Fosse musical, Pippin (1972), which has a similar theme, is perplexing to British theatergoers, currently (and might be to us, too). Despite the fact that it had Ben Vereen as a star, why did this musical ever mean anything? Did we really want to try everything? There was a time, before AIDs and an intractable national drug problem, when we believed the answer might be yes.
Not that the swirling acids of Cabaret’s mise en scene can’t still be compelling—Hitler’s Berlin has now captured the imagination of the Hungarian director Ildiko Nemeth, as well as her cowriters Colm O’Shea and Marie Glancy O’Shea (and, apparently, a few goth kids in the audience with multi-colored plumage). The creators introduce us to their own consideration of Dante’s hell, which, in the show’s opening number also includes Kit Kat Girls: “Fools never understand: life is pain; the secret sauce in our show is raw shame; The doctor sees your wounds and sores; He’ll make you crawl down on all-fours.” In Cabaret, Sally isn’t simply her masochistic choices, however. We understand her enough to think that she is more than her drives. In Hypnotik, the premise is that that’s all we really are—and the characters suffer because we’re not allowed to believe less.
I think the issue is story. As dramatic as the unbridled subconscious minds of the socially prominent characters in Hypnotik are, we don’t get to know them enough when they aren’t hypnotized; we need to understand more about their behavior outside of Hanussen’s Palace of the Occult. It’s like a showing of only the nightclub (or Id) scenes in Cabaret–the same kind of issue that happens when friends play show music all the time. Those who don’t know the movie or work would probably never think of wearing out an old LP by listening to the tracks of Joel Grey’s singing over and over again.
Hypnotik assumes that we only want the shocks, the mashup, not the reasons or behavior leading up to why we’ll be startled by them. Not that this isn’t a lot to ask for. Besides the similarities to Fosse, Bergman, and Dante, the material is also working with a character that has had several motion pictures made about him (one, by Istvan Szabo, which was nominated for the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1988). Hanussen is clearly a formidable character, absolutely one to think about theatrically: According to Sheila Ostrander and Lynn Schroeder, in Psychic Discoveries Behind the Iron Curtain, “Under Hitler, [he] gained wealth and power as a psychic and astrologer. In the 1930s, Hanussen was assassinated by the Nazis because he could clairvoyantly see the Nazis’ many secret projects and this seemed dangerous and inopportune to the Fascist hierarchy.” What has been made more widely known recently, in the book Erik Jan Hanussen by Mel Gordon, is that he was also Jewish. Many, of course, believe Hanussen was a sham, despite amazing predictions, which included Hitler’s rise to power (Americans typically bow to Big Science on matters of mentalist capabilities—but, as Nemeth would likely explain, that changes the farther east you go in Europe. The Serbian director Emir Kusturica would also probably resonate with this). Whether the center of a work—or another character is—there’s plenty more to investigate regarding Hanussen and his world beyond Expressionism (even if a work is executed Expressionistically). Can we see Hypnotik as a draft?
Peter B. Schmitz plays Hanussen; Sarah Lemp is a woman of privilege; Kaylin Lee Clinton is an actress, Chris Tanner is a director, Markus Hinigel, the unmasker; Dana Boll, Adam Boncz, Denice Kondik, Laurence Martin, Brandon Olson, Fabiyan Pemble-Belkin, Peter B. Schmitz, Lauren Smith, Paula Wilson, and Kat Yew also star. Kudos to the fashion sense of designer Jessica Sofia Mitrani, working mostly in black, with Kate Janysn Thaw and Marguerite Lochard.
© 2012 by Bob Shuman
Photo (L-R): Peter B. Schmitz as Seer in and Kaylin Lee Clinton as Actress in Hypnotik: The Seer Will Doctor You Now. Credit: Lee Wexler/Images For Innovation.
Press Representative: David Gibbs/DARR Publicity
HYPNOTIK: THE SEER WILL DOCTOR YOU NOW
In a decadent society, everything is entertainment. This is the world of Hypnotik. At the infamous Palace Theatre, a hypnotist promises psychic healing to volunteers. One by one he beckons his subjects to the stage where under his entrancement they reveal their most abject and malignant drives. But when the self-described “spectacle of raw shame” fails to deliver a group catharsis, the game of shame gives way to horror, as the Seer stares into a whirlwind poised to swallow more than just the Palace and its host. Hypnotik: The Seer Will Doctor You Now is loosely based on the bizarre and intriguing life of the Viennese occultist Eric Jan Hanussen, a celebrity in the Berlin theater scene during the rise of Hitler’s Third Reich.
The cast includes Dana Boll, Adam Boncz, Kaylin Lee Clinton (NY Innovative Theatre Award nominee), Markus Hirnigel, Denice Kondik, Sarah Lemp (The Hallway Trilogy at Rattlestick, The Pied Pipers of the Lower East Side and Happy in the Poorhouse with The Amoralists), Laurence Martin, Brandon Olson, Fabiyan Pemble-Belkin, Peter B. Schmitz (Scenes From an Execution and No End of Blame with PTP/NYC), Jeanne Lauren Smith, Chris Tanner, Paula Wilson and Kat Yew.
The New Stage Theatre Company (NSTC) was founded in 2002 by Ildiko Nemeth with the aim of enriching the contemporary theatrical landscape by bringing artists together and developing new works that embrace their diverse cultural and artistic traditions. Their passion is to create powerful and compelling theatre that is not merely consumed, but that challenges and enriches audiences long after the performance ends. The company is further dedicated to providing opportunities for emerging and immigrant artists to establish themselves in New York. They premiere existing plays by foreign playwrights in NYC and create original plays through collaboration within the company. NSTC has built a name for itself over the past nine years as a “daring downtown experimental group” (Back Stage) that achieves vital theatrical expression by presenting works that transcend the limitations of language, custom and theatrical convention.
Ildiko Nemeth is the Artistic Director of The New Stage Theatre Company (NSTC) and has served as the director on all of the company’s productions and as the creator of all of their premieres. Growing up under communism in Budapest, Hungary informed her view of art: that it should be confrontational, challenge accepted values, and stimulate individual and social change. With her company in Hungary, Nemeth garnered numerous prizes, such as the Guardian Critics’ Choice Award at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the Best Performance Award at the International Gombrowicz Festival in Poland. A veteran of Eastern European experimental theatre, her desire to bring this form of theatrical expression to the U.S. drove her to move to New York City in 1998. She graduated with a Master’s Degree from the Actor’s Studio Drama School in 2002 and started NSTC that same year.
NSTC productions conceived and directed by Nemeth have been nominated for NY Innovative Theatre Awards in seven categories, including Outstanding Performance Art Production for Some Historic/Some Hysteric. She has cultivated a distinctive style that is particular to her choice of plays, often inspired by historical events or people, and her aesthetic framework. Nemeth and NSTC specialize in movement-based performances with inventive choreography, gorgeous visual design, elaborate costuming and striking visual images that powerfully convey the subconscious dimensions of the action. Irene Backalenick of Back Stage praised Nemeth as “a highly creative director, who puts her own stamp on the piece.”
TimeOut NY called The New Stage Theatre Company’s production of Mapping Möbius an “imaginative multimedia portrait” and NY Theatre Wire applauded the play as a ”beautifully written performance piece…Ildiko Nemeth has once again turned science into highly entertaining and dramatic theater.” TimeOut NY called NSTC’s production of Oh, Those Beautiful Weimar Girls! a “stylishly morbid dance-theater piece” and NYTheatre.com deemed it “one terrific show” and a ”highly watchable night of indulgence.” Back Stage raved about NSTC’s production of Some Historic/Some Hysteric, calling it “dazzling, brilliant, searing” and TimeOut NY described it as “visually striking.”
Additional members of the creative team include NY Innovative Theatre Award nominee Jessica Sofia Mitrani (Costume Design), Kate Jansyn Thaw and Marguerite Lochard (Costume Construction), Ildiko Nemeth (Set Design) and Federico Restrepo (Lighting Design).
The theater is accessible from the L train to 1st Ave, F to 2nd Ave, N, R to 8th St, or 6 to Astor Place.