Big Willy LLC & Shades of Gray Productions
Created and Performed by MARK KASSEN
HERE Arts Center, April 16 – May 3, 2004
Produced by DAVID KREBS, TARO MEYER and ADAM KASSEN
Stage Manager MARCI SKOLNICK
Set Designer CHRISTIAN MOORE
Sound Designer/Music Supervision/Composer JEREMY FRINDEL
Lighting Designer RUSSEL DRAPKIN, USAA
Costume Designer JOHANNA ARGAN
Choreographer TIGER MARTINA
Publicist TIMOTHY HASKELL
Featuring ARI MEYERS as the women
Voiceovers by ANDREW BENATOR
LITTLE WILLY, a new production that credits no one as director, that runs under an hour, and that briefly dramatizes a rather intriguing historical footnote is a grand notion hiding in a slice of an actualized idea. Meant to examine the relative significance of Fuhrer nephew William Patrick Hitler, this brief introduction to the man who left Ireland to go to Germany, only to travel to the West and even serve in the United States military, whets the palate and leaves the audience wanting more.
LITTLE WILLY? Yes. Uncle Adolf had a nephew, and he wanted his own fifteen minutes of fame. Hitler’s brother Alois wed in Ireland and begat a son called William. Alois left the family, went to Germany and wed again, rendering himself not only a lout, but a bigamist as well. Little Willy grew up, and, armed with the inconvenient "evidence" that indicated that Adolf Hitler had a Jewish grandfather, headed for the guts and glory only to be found in a Germany newly committed to a Fascist branch called Nazism.
That William Hitler was unwelcome in his uncle’s court is unsurprising. Adolf Hitler’s obsession with personal privacy is neither a secret nor a mystery. That he tolerated William, who was Irish and Catholic, and who may have, for a time, held to the party line simply for the social connections certainly defies probability. As LITTLE WILLY does illustrate, Hitler did, in fact, have little to fear from his nephew talking to the powers that be in countries like the United States. His insights, or presumed lack thereof, were summarily dismissed, and William was left to rely on speaking tours with the title, "Why I Hate My Uncle," a phrase that is oft-repeated in this theatrical adaptation.
The greatest praise that I can offer the creators of LITTLE WILLY is also a stern rebuke. The production made me want to know more about William Patrick Hitler, and so I did my own research, but this was mainly to fill in some unanswered questions and gaps. After I did some additional reading, many of the artistic choices that were made seemed sensible, but only within the context of knowing the bigger picture. For the LITTLE WILLY to succeed with an uninspired audience, it will have to be expanded and enriched. As it is now, it feels annotative. Perhaps this was intended? Perhaps the brevity is meant to remind us that there are many overlooked details of large, oft-examined events like World War II and in the lives of infamous dictators like Adolf Hitler. They end up hidden in the voluminous texts we call history books.
Here, one of those details has leapt off the page to become a fledgling person of note. With a dash more depth, this Willy, as imagined by Mark Kassen and the rest of the creative team, could make LITTLE WILLY more than just a footnote in theatrical history.
- Kessa De Santis -