A Proper Propagandist

"Leni" is an all-too timely play.


Courtesy of Aurora Theater

Pundits are correct to single out the profusion of “fake news” on social media as a remarkably destructive force in the 2016 primaries and general election—clickbait articles with only the flimsiest factual content designed to enflame the reader’s rage at whatever candidate the outlet is devoted to targeting. But even the term “fake news” is a euphemism. What we’re really talking about is propaganda.

And while methods of dissemination have changed, propaganda has been around for a long time. The Nazis, famously, were particularly adept at it, and few more so than German filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl, the subject of Sarah Greenman’s play Leni at Berkeley’s Aurora Theatre Company.

Best known for her insidiously stirring 1935 Nazi rally promotional film Triumph of the Will and the similarly heroic imagery of her documentary of the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin (which critic Pauline Kael called “the two greatest films ever directed by a woman”), the undeniably brilliant director denied for the rest of her life that she knew about the crimes of the regime that she had celebrated and enabled in her work.

Playing on Aurora’s second stage, Harry’s Upstage in the Dashow Wing, Leni is a bold multimedia play in which an older Riefenstahl (Stacy Ross), adept at sidestepping questions about her complicity in genocide, debates her seductive younger self (Martha Brigham) as the two collaborate to create the ideal movie of her life. Jon Tracy directs the Bay Area premiere of Greenman’s challenging and all-too-timely play.

Leni plays March 10-April 23, Tue., Sun., 7 p.m.; Wed.-Sat. 8 p.m.; also Sun 2 p.m.; Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison St., Berkeley, $18-$66; 510-843-4822, AuroraTheatre.org. 


This report appears in the March edition of our sister publication, The East Bay Monthly.

Published online on March 7, 2017 at 8:00 a.m.

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