Theater Review - Eve of destruction

Karen Page’s play Speaking Nazi, part of Essential Theatre’s 2003 Festival of New American Theatre, depicts a family of small-town Georgians living in fear of the Axis of Evil. No, not today’s sponsors of terrorism, but the original Axis powers of Germany, Italy and Japan. As New Year’s Eve 1999 approaches, the evangelical couple of Tammy and Harve (Kimberly Jurgen and Troy Heard) are certain that Y2K will mark a devastating attack by our former enemies from World War II.

Winner of the 2003 Essential Theatre Playwriting Award, Speaking Nazi fares best with Tammy and Harve, who humorously embrace the extremes of survivalism and religious zealotry. Tammy busies herself stockpiling the family bunker while Harve holds forth about impending Armageddon, punctuating remarks on chemical warfare by popping open a can of PBR.

Unfortunately, Speaking Nazi gives most of its attention to Tammy and Harve’s oldest son David (Ben King), home from college for the holidays. He’s driven to distraction by his parents’ eccentricities, like the way his father says that studying German amounts to learning to “speak Nazi.” Given such a zany family, you can see how the play needs a “normal” one for contrast, but a little of David goes a long way. David’s incessant bitching about his provincial family gets increasingly shrill, and the actor can only do so much with such a tiresome part.

Director Lee Nowell makes the most of Speaking Nazi’s little moments. Ruth (Jennifer Hilton), the minister’s daughter and David’s childhood friend, makes amusing announcements at a Christmas Eve church service. Then she leads the congregation in singing “We Three Kings,” and David is mortified when his parents “testify” during the hymn.

At the end of Speaking Nazi’s running time of 70 minutes, we end up wishing we’d gotten less of David and more of his parents. Too bad the playwright didn’t give more of their views on the Rapture, or explore how they get along with like-minded fanatics. Letting David’s parents share the spotlight wouldn’t mean the end of the world.

Speaking Nazi plays in repertory through Feb. 9 at PushPush Theater, 1123 Zonolite Road, Suite 3. Wed.-Sat. at 8 p.m. Sun. at 3 and 7 p.m. $12-$15. 404-892-7876.