Review: Dinner with Goebbels (Act2studio)

Dinner with Goebbels brings the bad boys of propaganda together for a lively meal at Toronto’s Red Sandcastle Theatre

With his surprisingly human piece of political theatre, Dinner with Goebbels, playwright Mark Leith invites you to pull up a chair at what would surely be the Thanksgiving dinner from hell. Edward Bernays (the father of propaganda), Joseph Goebbels, and Karl Rove gather together for a glass of wine and a chat on what each of them has done to ruin humankind.

And like any dinner gone awry, what begins as a collegial back-patting session descends into mutual revulsion and a back-and-forth over which of them is the ugliest monster of man.

Staged in the tiny Red Sandcastle Theatre on Queen East (Bernays would call it “cozy”), the play makes the most of its venue with simple, subtle, effective direction and a wonderfully balanced cast. 

Sandra Forte (as Rove) and Mary Wildridge (as Goebbels) lend the play a narrative arc as its principal interlocutors, with Cathy Shilton (as Bernays) moderating often heated exchanges and providing historical context (fun fact: Bernays transformed cigarettes into a feminist rallying cry by branding them “torches of freedom”).

Forte has a wealth of comedy to draw on in her spirited caricature of Rove, and is often able to steal the show. (Last time I checked, Karl Rove didn’t have a southern drawl, although this does make him slightly more likable.)

The play is rich with historical detail on the comparatively obscure Edward Bernays, although at times it’s difficult to tell the facts from fiction. I enjoyed the show with an insightful friend who commented that it “would be ironic for a play warning about the perils of propaganda to itself be propaganda.”

Maybe there’s a lesson in that. “Everything I tell you tonight will be true,” says each member of this treacherous trio: Mark Leith reminds us that in life, as in his play, we are audience to some pretty impressive theatrics.