Kate Fodor scores quite a coup with her first play, the 2004 "Hannah and Martin," especially as staged by San Jose Repertory Theatre. It's an intriguing exploration of the relationship between two leading 20th century German philosophers, Hannah Arendt (Stacy Ross) and Martin Heidegger (Robert Krakovski).
They meet at Marburg University during the '20s when she is a student and he a professor. He becomes her mentor, then her lover even though he's married and has two sons. He then encourages her to go to Heidelberg University to study under his friend Karl Jaspers (Dan Hiatt). In the meantime, she marries a fellow student, the ebullient Gunther Stern (Reese Madigan), and begins a successful career as a teacher and writer. Over time, Martin and his wife, Elfride (Nancy Carlin), become involved with the National Socialist Party (Nazis), while Hannah, a Jew, flees the country.
The play tends to shift back and forth in time, starting after World War II when Hannah returns to Germany to write about the Nuremberg trials, specifically Hitler Youth leader Baldur Von Schirach (Madigan), who is accused of training German children to become Nazi soldiers. She also is writing to Freiburg University to request that the disgraced Martin be allowed to return to teaching there.
Fodor poses numerous questions without providing clear-cut answers about why Hannah would try to help Martin despite what he did during the war (removing all Jews from the faculty, denying Jaspers the right to use the university's library because Jaspers' wife is Jewish). She and Martin also argue about freedom of information, with Hannah advocating free exchange of ideas and Martin promoting the perfection of German culture, including Richard Wagner.
It's a fascinating production that's skillfully directed by David Schweizer. Alexander V. Nichols' stark set, with its catwalks and studio lights, allows for the back-and-forth nature of the action. Likewise B Modern's costumes reflect those changes. David Lee Cuthbert's lighting design is effective, especially in the post-war confrontation between Hannah and the ailing Martin in the kitchen of his home. The sound design is by Mitch Greenhill, who also composed recorded music played by cellist Joan Jeanrenaud.
At the heart of this production, though, is Ross' riveting performance as Hannah, who easily transforms herself from naive but bright young student to enthralled lover to confident intellectual and teacher. Krakovski also is excellent as the self-confident Martin who is finally seen as a broken, ailing man after the war. The versatile Hiatt portrays not only Professor Jaspers but also a prosecutor and a journalist at Nuremberg. Likewise, Carlin portrays both Martin's wife and Jaspers' wife, and Madigan does well in his double duty as Gunther and Von Schirach. Completing the cast is Lizzie Calogero as Alice, Hannah's student secretary, who refuses to type Hannah's letter supporting Martin after the war.