Martin Heidegger, preeminent philosopher of Weimar Germany, nurtured the mind of the young Hannah Arendt. Though married with children, he also initiated an affair with her, which continued till just before the Nazis came to power. Heidegger, newly appointed rector of Freiburg University, purged its faculty of Jews. Arendt escaped, becoming a major figure in American intellectual life. After the war, she supported Heidegger’s ouster from his academic chair, but then, startlingly, relented after a meeting with him and urged his reinstatement.
This wince-producing story, the substance of Kate Fodor’s ungainly but forceful Hannah and Martin, would seem a more honest but less sparkling Copenhagen if its lead characters were fairly matched. Instead, Arendt’s emotional susceptibility makes it seem more like Mamet’s Oleanna rewritten by Nietzsche: The mature Arendt succumbs again, at least sufficiently to forgive, despite her own rational arguments. Having shown the couple in all-out debate, Fodor simply moves to Arendt’s volte-face without explanation. The real moral may be that even the acutest mind turns mushy when feelings are involved. Melissa Friedman makes a competent, somewhat tentative Arendt, so David Strathairn’s electric, moodily smoldering Heidegger would easily dominate Ron Russell’s modest production for Epic Theater Center if George Morfogen, spreading the butter of moderation as Heidegger’s mentor Karl Jaspers, didn’t almost steal it out from under him.