Lies, Love and Hitler

21 Apr

It’s refreshing to see a play about ethics, one that puts the discussion of what’s right and wrong centre stage.

For many years I felt alienated by the obvious fact, that in our pluralistic society, there isn’t one common ethical system. People have different visions of what makes a good life. This troubled me, because it emphasized my youthful isolation.

Then I had a strangely liberating epiphany. I realized that not only do people have differing ethical systems, but they also place vastly different importances on them.

I realized ethics was like aesthetics: people have different visions of what is beautiful, but honestly, many people just don’t think beauty matters all that much. They’ll say, “Yes, the curtains are hideous, but who cares?” (All the while, there are other people who can’t sleep at night knowing those ugly curtains are there, waiting.)

Paradoxically, I was heartened by my youthful epiphany. If many people didn’t take ethics that seriously, then it might be of value if someone did. (Me.)

Lies, Love and Hitler by Elizabeth Avery Scott focuses on a man who took ethics very seriously – the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Photo by Katy Green Loughrey

Photo by Katy Green Loughrey

The play begins by positing a simple dichotomy, one which presumably Bonhoeffer faced: Do we make our ethical decisions based on a set of predetermined rules? Or do we make our decisions based on what we imagine will be the consequences of our actions?

This is an old philosophical chestnut. Rules versus results.

I think it’s a false dichotomy.  I think virtually everyone uses the results model. But, of course, they judge the desirability of the consequences of their actions based on a predetermined set of ‘rules’.

This is what Bonhoeffer did. Living through the Third Reich, he made the decision that the Fifth Commandment could be broken in order to stop Hitler’s brutal lunacy. (I don’t know many people who’d have scruples about this.)

But the play is not primarily about Bonhoeffer’s life. The focus is the present, where a university lecturer and his student have to negotiate the morality of both their relationship, and society’s  sexual power games.

Bonhoeffer appears in the majority of the play as figment of the modern day characters’ imaginations. He gives them advice. He inspires them to confront the issues.

Some people might find this a little cutesy, and query whether the issues facing the two moderns are really commensurate with the trials Bonhoeffer faced.

But we all face ethical challenges, and we have to find support somewhere.

I began by suggesting it was refreshing to find a play that puts ethics in focus, but it’s also good to find one interested in the life of the mind. Not that the play is intellectually heavy. There’s plenty of humour, and some real passion. The performances are enjoyable, with James Scott as the lecturer being lovably goofy, and Ylaria Rogers as the student giving an impressive portrayal of youthful intensity. Doug Chapman as Bonhoeffer is particularly charming, combining intelligence and warmth. Director Rochelle Whyte’s engaging production of this clever play is certainly a conversation starter.

Ultimately, for me, the play is not about ethics. It’s about the idea of having intellectual mentors. And I think this is a vital concept. In a pluralistic society we often feel we’re doing it alone. Chats over coffee with friends or work colleagues somehow don’t always cut it. Our contemporaries are often as confused, and complicit, as we are.

But we live in a literate, historically-aware society and we should take advantage of it. The support networks available are wide and so deep. We’re potentially the inheritors of a vast hoard of treasures. The characters in the play find support from Bonhoeffer. My intellectual mentors are Simone Weil, Catherine of Siena, Joan of Arc, Gandhi and Ramakrishna.

At least thirteen years were spent teaching you to read. Do yourself a favour, and use that skill for something more Life-enhancing than newspaper articles, real estate ads and theatre reviews.

Veronica Kaye


Lies, Love and Hitler by Elizabeth Avery Scott

at the Old Fitz til 3 May

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