In preparation for all the Prologues, Q&A sessions and everything else associated with the Portland Center Stage production of Cabaret, this summer I finally broke down and read The Berlin Stories, by Christopher Isherwood. These remarkable, mostly autobiographical accounts of Berlin partying while Hitler rises to power are harrowing, funny, revealing and absorbing. I should have read them decades ago; it’s the sort of book that can show a young writer there’s a middle ground between confessional diarism and fiction.
Don't do as I did, though, and take the book on vacation with you. Imagine me avidly and anxiously rushing through these stories, as “Cliff Bradshaw” (Isherwood’s nom de guerre) traipses through Berlin’s seedier spider traps with the Nazis growing ever more menacing and numerous….and all while I’m sunning myself at the edge of the world in emerald green Kaua’i. Embodying a new definition of cognitive dissonance. I hardly needed to be transported away from Hanalei, but it was a journey worth taking nevertheless.
Since then, in my follow-up research, it touched me to learn that there’s now a plaque on the front of the house where much of The Berlin Stories unfolded, acknowledging the building’s historical and literary importance. It makes Cabaret all the more poignant knowing that most of its characters – Fraulein Schneider, Ernst, Fraulein Kost, Bobby, and of course Sally Bowles herself – actually lived, and lived in that very residence. I hope to visit it myself someday.
Meanwhile, here’s a some fun spots for you: Storm Large’s promo for the production, done in character; same for Wade McCollum; and also a brief introduction by the play’s director and my boss, Chris Coleman. Cheers.