'Quick Lime' chronicles anti-Nazi struggle

by Lindsay Barnes | 1/15/03 6:00am

"I must do something!"

This was the battle cry of one man who hated injustice and upon witnessing it decided he had to take matters into his own hands. And the drive to "do something" is also what propels the action in Dutch theater company ZT Hollandia's one-man show "Quick Lime," which puts on its second of two performances tonight in the Bentley Theater.

"Quick Lime" is based on the true story of Dutch bricklayer and later Communist revolutionary Marinus van der Lubbe, played by Fedja van Huet.

Van der Lubbe lacked a formal education, and his eyesight was impaired in an accident at work, but he did read a lot of books -- Marx and Chinese philosophy were among his favorites. Fed up with the conditions of the working man in Holland, in the early 1930s he decided to walk to China and back and assess the situations of his fellow workers along the way. Frustrated with his findings, downtrodden from the lack of kindness from strangers and weary from the journey, he decided to turn around in Bulgaria and head home.

Upon traveling through Germany on the return trip, van der Lubbe's anger at the state of Europe reached its peak when he saw how Hitler and the Nazi party had seriously worsened the already desperate circumstances of the working class. After failing to unite any German workers in opposition, he finally decided to "do something" alone by setting fire to the Reichstag, Germany's parliament building in Berlin, on Feb. 27, 1933.

But Van der Lubbe's statement had the opposite effect he had intended. Instead of weakening the Nazi party, Hitler used the event as an excuse to arrest thousands of members of the Communist Party.

It is only appropriate that this story of an unconventional man be told in an unconventional manner. The production is unlike anything I've ever seen onstage.

Featuring one actor, two musicians and a puppeteer, van der Lubbe's story was conveyed using a combination of theater and electronic music that transports the audience through time and space as they follow his journey. At times it was light and comedic, at other times edgy and confrontational, but it always engaged the audience in the compelling story.

Faced with the daunting task of carrying an entire show on his own, van Huet played van der Lubbe with a restless energy that drew in the audience from the moment he walked onstage. Without the usual dimming of the house lights, the show began with an abrupt entrance by van Huet, who remained silent for roughly two minutes as van der Lubbe assessed the audience before him and thought of what he was going to say.

That was the only stillness the audience felt for the next 90 minutes, as van Huet put on a physically frenetic performance, moving all across the stage and down the aisles, portraying van der Lubbe as a man whose mouth and legs could barely keep up with his mind. Every movement van Huet made, from dancing a German jig, to hitching a ride on a truck, to marching to the Reichstag, to even eating an apple, was done with great fury and urgency. His performance last night was a thespian tour de force that wore me out just watching it.

Equally important was the electronic music provided by Florentijn Boddendijk and Remco de Jong. By using a combination of computerized beats and sound effects, the two provided the sonic landscape in which van Huet performed. The music didn't act merely as a score but as an integral part of the story: a gravel road, a platoon of marching soldiers, whizzing bullets -- all of these are created through the music.

Sometimes the music even acted as one half of a dialogue with van der Lubbe, as was the case during his trial. Van Huet conversed with sound clips of the angry prosecutors recorded from the 1933 proceedings.

The climax of the play -- in which van der Lubbe sets fire to the Reichstag -- exemplified ZT Hollandia's unorthodox style of theater. The scene was done without any words at all but with a battering ram of heavy industrial beats and abrasive sound effects. Van Huet banged on a bench laden with dusty old newspapers in yellow light, creating an inferno in the small theater.

In explaining his solitary act of revolution, van der Lubbe told the audience, "If you're going to do something by yourself, it has to be big to get a result."

Like the event that inspired it, "Quick Lime" is big. Big ambition, big energy, big intensity -- and it does get a result.