Arts & Culture
‘Seven Minutes in Eternity’
A new play explores a real anti-Semitic demagogue from a bizarre chapter of American history. Read More
You’ve probably never heard of William Dudley Pelley, and it’s with good reason; despite his many ambitions, he never really amounted to much.
These ambitions were diverse and sometimes bizarre: Journalist, screenwriter, politician, mystic, advocate of Nazism into 1930s America. While some of these endeavors went better than others (he did write a couple of Lon Chaney films), he ultimately served a jail sentence for sedition and died in disgrace.
Yet, every villain is the hero of their own story, and a new play performing this weekend in New York by Andy Boyd, Seven Minutes in Eternity, lets Pelley become the author of his own narrative.
Have you ever seen an autobiographical theatre piece, perhaps with a charismatic, well-spoken lead/subject, but self-indulgent to the point of narcissism? This piece envisions what would happen if Pelley subjected audiences to such an experience.
The result is a roller coaster through Pelley’s life, strictly on his terms. This includes his career, relationships, and the divinely-inspired “discovery” that the Jews are behind the international spread of Communism. Since Pelley is a born American steeped in pulp Hollywood culture, he then sees himself, naturally, as Christ’s superhero, the last vanguard (other than Hitler, Franco, and Mussolini), against the Jewish Menace.
What ensues are struggles that would make Golden Age Superman jealous, albeit against the likes of a Golem, Franklin Roosevelt, Baron Rothschild, and the Elders of Zion themselves (Elder of Zion— put that on an acting resume).
Nathanael Taylor’s Pelley is a lot more likable than a certain orange presidential candidate, even as his fews manage to be even more twisted. Pelley begins the show reasonable, measured, quirky, yet well-meaning, but to call him an unreliable narrator is an understatement. The absurdism unfolding around him speaks more to his own bile than he does (not for a second are any of the racist conspiracies made believable).
This show asks in its tagline, “What is the difference between a Fascist supervillain… and us?” The answer seems to be, either a whole lot, or nothing. Strip down the views, and strip off the “Silver Shirt” that is his super-powered alter-ego, and you find a bitter, frustrated, man who wants to change his reality at any cost. That is no rare find. And that, not God-astral projection and super strength (as Pelley claims to have), are the real cause for fear.
So if you want a somewhat subversive July 4th weekend, complete with cartoonish Zionist elders, give the show a try.
Seven Minutes in Eternity, directed by Yonit Friedman, runs June 30 through July 2, each night at 8 p.m. at the Schapiro Theatre, 615 W 115th St. Tickets are free, and may be reserved by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Image credit Jesse Eisenberg