Descending into any of the small dark theatres that litter the East Village is always a gamble. You can enter a decrepit corner and be confronted by amateur experimental mishaps or find Broadway’s next blockbuster. In the case of David Cote’s surprising production of “Something Something Über Alles”, the gamble certainly pays off and you are rewarded with an hour and a half of a tale that is both bizarre and bewitching.
Written by the late Assurbanipal Babilla, this one-man play tells the story of a man’s strange encounter with his best friend. His best friend, you see, bears a striking resemblance to Adolf Hitler. Over a series of three encounters, this Hitler doppelganger recounts to his friend the most outlandish tale in which he is abducted by two German men and taken deep underground in Midtown, where a secret cult meets every Friday to worship the image of the late Adolf. Taking him as an incarnation of their idol, they make him the leader of their cult, granting him all the sex, money, and power a man could desire. And yet, while he gains an entire following of worshippers, the utter absurdity and implausibility of the tale comes between the two friends: he loses his only true ally and comes to a lonely, grizzly end.
A narrative of such complexity in this intimate space relies entirely on the strength of the performer, and Robert Honeywell is truly triumphant. The stage is bare except for a single chair and the occasional prop – a coat, a bottle of water. Yet through Honeywell’s remarkable storytelling ability, the entirety of Manhattan seems to emerge in the darkened theatre, both its soaring skyscrapers and the strange cult that lurks beneath. Swapping rapidly between characters, Honeywell’s vocal prowess and exuberant energy is infectious as he leads us along this strange, absurd, and ultimately touching tale.
Babilla’s script is unquestionably odd, but both a strong narrative and a rich poetic language uphold the world he creates. Though it is occasionally repetitive, the play races along at a fierce pace as we descend into the madness. Initially the idea of the story seems highly offensive, yet clever writing and a biting satire allow us to laugh at and ultimately question the nature of obsession and worship, be it of a political figure, a religious idol, or a friend.
Cote’s direction is simple and precise, well suited to the style of the piece. He is able to direct his performer in the rhythms and pacing of the work to construct the movement and energy of the narrative. The lighting was occasionally distracting, particularly when it flashed and moved rapidly, but at other times it was atmospheric and effective in creating the different spaces the character inhabits.
This is a strange, lurid, and engaging tale told by a performer who clearly loves his craft. It is a roaring ninety minutes emerging from the bowls of St. Marks and well worth the descent.