Theater Review: ‘Playing Leni’

After 15 years, one production, one staged reading and two writers, David Robson’s true vision for a play exploring the chameleon-like personality of influential filmmaker and Nazi propagandist Leni Riefenstahl is finally coming to the stage.

It just took reconnecting with an old friend to make it happen — and a whole lot of work.
About five years ago, the Delaware County Community College professor sent some sketches to Philly-based Madhouse Theater Company, without any inclination that his former college buddy, John Stanton, was co-founder of the company.

When they decided to meet in a Center City coffee shop, Robson mentioned his long-defunct script about the post-WWII interrogation of Riefenstahl, which had a small production but hit a dead end. Stanton was fascinated by the concept and began writing a campy Riefenstahl character that appeared in Madhouse’s Late Night Cabaret. “With that subject matter, I could only poke fun for so long,” says Stanton. “I felt funny about continuing the campy humor without any foot in reality, but I thought the project was more than my one brain could handle.”

Soon Robson and Stanton had co-authored a full-length dark comedy. “Leni i’s this woman that has worn many masks throughout her life. She’s had to be a lot of things to a lot of different people to survive as an artist in Nazi Germany,” says Robson. “But there needs to be a moment where all of the masks are off, and she’s forced to confront the reality of what Hitler did.”

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