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Seeking Answers to Evil : The drama depicts Hitler, at age 35, on trial for treason. The playwright calls him 'charismatic and diabolical.'

January 28, 1994|JANICE ARKATOV | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Janice Arkatov writes about theater for The Times

WOODLAND HILLS — John Falotico would like you to meet a different Hitler.

"Hitler is usually played as a paranoid old man in a bunker," notes the playwright, whose 12-character drama, "Adolf Hitler on Trial: The True Story," is opening tonight at the Center Stage Theatre. "Here he's young--35, he wears a suit. There's no mustache or swastika." Falotico's chronicle of Hitler as a politician on the rise includes the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch (his attempted coup d'etat), his subsequent trial for treason and the six-month prison term during which he wrote "Mein Kampf."

Falotico--who by day is a San Fernando Valley attorney specializing in employment law--traces his interest in Hitler's trial to law school, when he came across a complete court transcript made by the Germans in 1923.

The 3,000-page document covers the 40-day trial that included 12 attorneys and 50 witnesses; it was seized after the war and put in the U.S. National Archives. From this voluminous material (Hitler's opening statement alone ran four hours), the playwright has culled and edited Hitler's own words. Falotico created his own dialogue for the beer hall and prison scenes.

Attempting to understand the appeal of Hitler, the playwright--who presented an earlier version of this play at Venice's Rose Theatre in 1992--looks to Hitler's experiences during World War I.

"It is difficult trying to understand a crazy man," he acknowledges. "But if you look at his time in the war: He was struck with shrapnel, blinded by mustard gas. At the end of the war, the soldiers didn't get weapons; they had to go into the trenches and take guns off the corpses. He was dehumanized, brutalized. He crawled out of the trenches and had no fear of death; he was inured to suffering."

Falotico believes Hitler was a truly anti-Semitic, anti-Communist master strategist.

"He chose his victims for their political expediency, those without power," he says. "At first, he wanted to put old people to death." Falotico allows, "He was a great orator, a human chameleon. (Albert) Speer said Hitler could adapt himself to the mood of any crowd. I wanted to present that eerie cunning, the ability he had to mesmerize. Talking to the court, he sounds like Clarence Darrow: logical, persuasive. In the prison cell with his cronies, the beast comes out, and you see the darker side."

Falotico, a native of Encino who taught high school calculus in Silver Lake before detouring to law school in the '80s, says his interest in Hitler has a lot to do with civic education.

"When you read how many people don't believe in the Holocaust, you have to spell it out," he says. "You have to show people. You have to show the details, how something like this could have happened. I first heard about the Holocaust when I was 6, so it's always been an appalling fact of life for me. I felt some duty to present this, prevent it from happening again. We had the Armenians, Cambodia, now Bosnia. . . ."

Director Francis Creighton, who also staged the play's 1992 run, likewise feels contemporary parallels in Hitler's story.

"When you see things like Oliver North running for the Senate," he says grimly, "when a lawbreaker can run for office, it should be a warning that something like that could happen here." Although Creighton and Falotico are not Jewish, both lost uncles--American soldiers--in World War II, and clearly feel an affinity for the subject of Hitler. "He's dangerous and provocative, charismatic and diabolical," the director says.

Where and When

What: "Adolf Hitler on Trial: The True Story."

Location: Center Stage Theatre, 20929 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills.

Hours: 8 p.m. Fridays. Indefinitely.

Price: $12 general, $10 students and seniors.

Call: (818) 716-7202.

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