Aunt Raini, which is currently being presented by the Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company, is a play about many things, but at its center it is a play about art. When is a creator of art an artist? What does the art say about the artist? If the artist changes, should the interpretation of their work? And lastly, is all art political, or can art be art just for art's sake.
The Aunt Raini at the center of the drama is the real life artist and controversial historical figure Leni Riefenstahl. Leni was a photographer and film maker most known for her work in Germany during the third reich. She was a documentarian for the Nazi Party, and made the documentary Triumph of the Will. In the trials after World War II she was declared a Nazi sympathizer and was found not guilty of war crimes.
Michael Torsch as Joel and Heidi Fellner as Katherine in Aunt Raini. Photo by Sarah Whiting.
The play takes place in 2003 at the end Leni's life, and involves characters both real and fictionalized. Katherine is Leni's great niece (created for the play), whom Leni raised in Germany after her mother's death at the age of 12. Leni, or Aunt Raini as she is called by her niece, is visiting Katherine and meeting her boyfriend Joel in New York when she has health troubles and ultimately passes. The drama comes when it is exposed to the world and to Katherine's Jewish boyfriend who Aunt Raini really is. Ultimately Katherine is left Aunt Raini's/Leni's work and is left to decide how to care for or erase her legacy.
The play does not answer the questions that I stated at the beginning, but it does certainly give the audience a great example to ponder them on. The theater used created a very intimate space, with the seats in a great slope looking down on the stage in a way that brings the drama even closer to you.
The relatively small cast is comprised of Maggie Bearmon Pistner as Aunt Raini, Heidi Fellner as Katherine, Dan Hopman as Horst and Michael Torsch as Joel. Other than Dan Hopman who seemed a bit young for his role of Aunt Raini's partner, the group was very well cast. They all fully embodied their flawed characters, accents and all. With the exception of a few awkwardly staged scenes Aunt Raini is a solid package of thoughtful and funny writing, strong acting and good design. And to top it all of it is sure to leave you thinking.
Aunt Raini is currently playing at the Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company until November 20.
Thank you to MJTC for inviting me to this production.