“Where the fuck is she?” whispers pianist Otto (Heath Saunders) after performer Erika Stern (Alexis Fishman) fails to appear following his grandiose introduction. “Let’s do it from the top” he instructs the band members and this time Erika does appear, she rushes onto the stage, wearing a corset, fishnets and gloves. She is so seductive and effortlessly stylish that we can’t help but assume she was doing drugs, having sex or engaging in something extremely decadent before appearing onstage. As she begins to sing and her show goes on, we learn how wrong we were.
Set in 1933 Berlin, Der Gelbe Stern is a thought-provoking, intimate spectacle that transports us to a different time and place and makes us feel the hedonism and dread that infested the Weimar Republic. Through Erika’s stories of parties, sex and love, we see how she lived in a society that wanted to extract all the pleasure possible out of life, before their system was swallowed by Nazism. During one of the show’s most chilling moments, Erika asks the audience to join in a song parodying Hitler and while the merriment of communion with fellow patrons is electrifying, we can’t help but feel as if the Gestapo would break in at any moment and beat us all.
The show’s effectiveness is mostly owed to the mesmerizing Fishman (who also co-wrote the show with James Millar) whose Erika is a character so well fleshed out that we are convinced she was a real person (she wasn’t). But Fishman’s ability to have us wrapped around her finger with her sassy tales and unfiltered emotional outpour helps her create something very specific from a horrific historical event. We leave Der Gelbe Stern heartbroken because we are reminded of the terrors of Nazism, and also because we wish Erika would keep us company for a little bit longer.
Through July 21 at The Laurie Beechman Theatre.