I’M A STRANGER HERE MYSELF, created and performed by Mark Nadler and directed by David Schweizer, is both a lament and a celebration of Weimar Germany and the bohemian lifestyle celebrated by the young during this time. Incredibly impoverished, pincered by a swiftly inflating currency, stabbed by the growth of hate and, underneath that hate, a creeping fascism; yet this impossible position also gave rise to an incredibly fertile undergrowth and the arts mecca which Berlin became.
Nadler, winner of any number of awards from around the world, brings to the Prince Music Theater’s stage a talent, experience, and confidence that is impossible in Philly’s insular arts scene. We simply don’t have enough opportunities to foster his poise. Flanked by Vena Johnson on violin and Rosie Langabeer on accordion, pounding decadently away at his piano, Nadler strikes every song, every crescendo, every theatrical moment, even every parenthetical exposition with absolute certainty.
Through the songs of Kurt Weil, Frederick Hollander, Schwartz and Dietz, and others, Nadler tells the story of the outsiders, particularly the homosexuals and Jews, who made this period exceptional, beginning with the end of the first world war and extending beyond the start of the second, into their escapes from the motherland.
Structurally, the show might be a little less than polished. In his stories—even lectures—Nadler goes on perhaps longer than he should. The play might drip a little thickly with nostalgia, both for the Weimar times he personally never saw, and also for his own impoverished youth performing cabaret in clubs in New York.
But this raises the question of how one must approach a time which was so fecund, rich, childish, and pugnacious and which was so senselessly exterminated. Nadler brings the sweetness, desire, intellectual passion, and sexuality which characterized the time itself. And in the end, I could care less if he goes on too long on one subject or another; every time he sits down at the piano it’s another gift, another treat.
Strange that last month we saw Peter Brooks’ THE SUIT on this same stage (see Phindie’s review here), which documented with perhaps less nostalgia—but also less raw sexuality and rage—the story of doomed, bohemian, Sophiatown, South Africa.
For a preview of the quality of Nadler’s performance, check out the video below, featuring SCHICKELGRUBER, the ballad of the Führer’s bastardy. [Prince Music Theater, 1412 Chestnut St.] April 2-12, 2014, princemusictheater.org.