by Douglas Lackey


Martin Heidegger and Hannah Arendt were leading intellectuals of the twentieth century. In the 1920’s, they had a passionate affair. In the 1930’s, Heidegger became an ardent Nazi while Arendt became an ardent Zionist. Nevertheless, after the war, they still continued to correspond and to meet. Douglas Lackey dramatizes their relationship in this five-character play. Its dialogue and action go beyond known facts, but everything in the play is consistent with them. Alexander Harrington directs.

Hannah Arendt was a brilliant political theorist and a philosophical thinker of the first rank. As a teenager, she commenced an affair with Martin Heidegger, a celebrated German philosopher who went on to become a leading and unapologetic supporter of Adolf Hitler. After World War II, Arendt maintained her friendship with Heidegger, met with him and corresponded with him, despite Heidegger’s silent refusal to disavow the Nazi party. The play explores how this could have happened. It probes deeply into the Arendt/Heidegger affair by presenting sides of Heidegger as Arendt saw them: the charismatic teacher, the intriguing student of the human condition, the lover of art and poetry.

A play on such characters would seem to be a play of philosophical and political ideas, but this one is first and foremost a compelling love story. It dramatizes the power of the combination of sexual and intellectual attraction. Lackey writes on the play's website, "Arendt connected with Heidegger physically, emotionally and intellectually. This is a story of a woman in love, no ordinary woman and no ordinary affair."

Simultaneously it introduces the audience to elements of Heidegger’s philosophy which are a significant part of 20th century existentialism. While these ideas are appealing to the contemporary, secular New York theater-going audience, the play shows their darker side. It reveals how Heidegger’s glorification of the irrational fed into the anti-rationalism of Nazsim (though, as Lackey points out, most critics of rationalism were anti-Nazis) and, by extension, the irrationalism that is currently having a renaissance.

The play also explores the possibility that Heidegger’s decision to join the Nazi party and tout Hitler was self-serving. This begs comparison with the determination of so many conservative ideologues, who previously denounced Donald Trump, to support him. History does not repeat, but it instructs. We are living in a time when autocratic nationalism and open racism (both genuine and opportunistic) are re-emerging. Philosophers are not left out of the picture. Dead ones like Ivan Ilyin (the only fascist thinker to be revived in our century) are guiding the likes of Putin while living ones are again bending with the wind.

September 27 to October 14, 2018
Theater for the New City
155 First Ave (between 9th and 10th Sts.)
Thurs - Sat at 8:00 PM, Sun at 3:00 PM
$15 general admission, $10 seniors and students
Box office: (212) 254-1109

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