Publication: Theater blog ‘Call Me Adam’
By: Adam Rothenberg
This month you are returning to Feinstein’s/54 Below with your new show “Rendezvous with Marlene.” What are you looking forward to about this show?
RENDEZVOUS WITH MARLENE means a lot to me. It is my personal homage to that great Lady. Its is the Story I chose to tell about her and the story I want people to hear.
There are many portraits of Marlene out there , this one is coming from my heart. She is telling her life through my filter and singing her songs with my voice.
This show is based upon your 3-hour phone call between you & Marlene back in 1988. When did you decide you wanted to turn this conversation into a show? How did you recall everything you talked about? Did you record the phone conversation 30 years ago?
No, I did not record that phone call on any recording device , just in my heart and consciousness. There it slept and stayed dormant for a long time. I always appreciated the comparisons, it was rather an honor to be called Marlene Dietrich. At the same time I knew that artistically I was nothing like her. Plus I was so young , wild and untamable in my own way. I grew up with the music of the 70s , with Pink Floyd and the Beatles… I always had an edge and did not conform. Well , this last part sounds very much like Dietrich , right ? Yes , I was also German with a rather complicated history and relationship with my country. I was also an expatriate that would never sing the German National Hymne. I had a great anger and horror about the history of Nazi Germany and of course the Holocaust. Being married to a New York Jew, also in my 2nd marriage, I have much to separate myself in my heart and soul from my home country. It hurts to have feelings like this .. like I don t belong where I am born …. or I cannot belong there … She felt similar.
There are many dimensions by now 30 years or more later than I can relate to her destiny.
Last year I was asked to play Dietrich in 3 different stage productions , a play in Paris that shows her love affair to Jean Gabin, a stage show that explores her love affair to Piaf and another smaller british movie. I thought all the scripts were stereo type and not researched enough. I gave everyone my input and sold my ideas and knowledge for free … ha… then I thought , why don t I write my own play and base it on the one unique personal encounter with her .
Thats the story . Between memories , really inside treasures and a bunch of research and of course some imagination I wrote this play and included Marlene’s most gorgeous songs.
It is not an imitation of her , but my reflection of her, my projection .
What part of your conversation did you know right away had to be in the show? What part of the conversation didn’t make it into the show?
Oh , the Rainer Maria Rilke quotes are memorable and meaningful. The tales about Germany , having lost her home land… her sad words about her broken relationship with her daughter. What I remember , made it into the show…., of course there is lots of additional storytelling to explore her journey.
What did you learn about Marlene or yourself in creating this show that you didn’t know 30 years ago?
I internalized her story and identified with it. I never wanted to really embrace that identification. Now I am ready .. I am much older, I have enough distance to everything …in this world … career, society, culture, love, children, pressure, beauty, aging … and yet enough proximity to her dignity, class, game , sexuality, pain and sorrow, solitude and hedonism. It is great fun to crawl into her story.
As you were talking to Marlene Dietrich in 1988, do you remember what was going through your head as you were talking to this living legend?
I could not believe it . I always said , I wish I would have been older when we had the conversation. Marlene asked on the phone how old I was and she was disappointed when I told her I was 24. She wanted an equal … a girlfriend, but I was not there yet . Now , I try to be a good friend of hers telling her story.
How did Marlene Dietrich influence you?
I am not sure whether it was the influence of Marlene or rather just my personal aesthetics that often made me look like her on photos and in my styling. I just liked a classy , seductive, powerful and mysterious Aura. I was always drawn to the Art Nouveau, the Film Noir and the Shadows that determine the light. Her style was classy but also corny and super artificial to me. Her unique choices were very inspiring. She was morally and politically courageous and outspoken.
She represented an emancipated woman, a free spirit, sexual , yet masculine and androgynous, powerful , ladylike and bossy at the same time , she exercised an open marriage and was crazy polygamous (haha, fantastic).
Marlene chose to join the USArmy and entertain the Soldiers during World War 2, to keep up their morals at the front lines. Yes , she loved the thousands of men / soldiers around herself , but she also risked her life. She admitted that she was scared of capture.
For your performance in “Cabaret” in Paris, you received the French Moliére Award and garned a lot of comparison to Marlene Dietrich. At that time, what was it like to be compared to Marlene Dietrich? What made you send her an apology letter for the comparison? How did she respond to the letter?
I felt that this incredible Legend , who had been a Weimar Kabarett Star , a most glamorous Hollywood Diva, an Ambassador to peace deserved better than the comparison to a 24 year old young actress. And just because I was German and started a career abroad … I fell into this category Dietrich or Romy Schneider. I wanted to express my admiration and thanked her for myself and generations of women she had empowered.
In 1992, Marlene Dietrich passed away, six days before the opening night of the Berlin production of “Blue Angel,” in which you played “Lola,” the role that made Marlene Dietrich a star in 1928. How did her passing affect you & influence the way you played the role after her passing?
Her death did not affect my interpretation of the role of LOLA. I did not play Dietrich , but LOLA. I had chosen deliberately not to play it with a blond wig and high penciled eyebrows, but rather red haired , punk and confrontational.
Many things happened to her legacy and to mine too after her death throughout those years after the fall of the Wall , the new united Germany etc. Marlene’s story is a complicated one and it hurts … its a painful story and an embarrassing story for Germany honestly. It took Germany a hundred years to finally embrace her. How deeply rooted is nationalism and extreme righteous and rightwing hatred. ????
You will hear incredible parts of her story , you probably do not even know in this country …. it is shocking.
But I lived through enough times of provincial populism that brings out the worst in human beings to also talk about that part of Marlene’s story……. but there is much more than that to this Lady…
come check it out !
If Marlene were alive today, what do you think your relationship with her would be like? What song would you like to record with her?
I would go and visit and have a bottle or 5 of Moet Chandon with her… and laugh out loud about the world and simply have a good time. We would be “the laziest gals in town !!!…..
I have a component to my interviews called “I Can See Clearly” now where I try to clear-up misconceptions about my interviewees. But for this interview, I’d like to ask, what do you think was the biggest misconception about Marlene Dietrich that you would like to clear up right now?
Due to the fact that mainly her photographs survive the wheel of time …. she was not this stereotype image …. she manipulated her shots to perfection and capture that still life .. and behind that image was a free bird , passionate, provocative, courageous and completely non conform. Also being a great cook and housecleaner, she loved a dirty joke , a stiff drink and good smoke.
I visited Billy Wilder in 1988 in Hollywood with my friend Volker Schloendorff. Billy had known Marlene very well and gave me some personal insides that also contributed to RENDEZVOUS WITH MARLENE.