Propagandist filmmaker faces ‘purgatory of her own making’ in ‘Leni’s Last Lament’ at the Invisible Dog Art Center

woman on stage in leni's last lament
Nazi filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl faces a ‘trial purgatory” in the one-woman show “Leni’s Last Lament.”
Photo courtesy of Gil Kofman

Beginning on March 13, Brave New World Repertory Theatre will debut its 2024 Season with the world premiere of “Leni’s Last Lament, a one-woman show about the controversial World War II filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl.

The play stars Jodie Markell as Riefenstahl, whose propagandist films for Hitler and the Third Reich propelled them all to international infamy. Desperately trying to rewrite the sins of her notorious past, Riefenstahl utilizes film clips from her personal and professional life to make a case for her absolution.

During the show’s three-week engagement, Markell and the audience will explore the life and work of Riefenstahl as she faces the consequences of her actions in life. 

woman sittong on stool talking in leni's last lament
Actress Jodi Markell stars as Riefenstahl in the one-woman show. Photo courtesy of Gil Kofman

“Leni’s Last Lament” is written by Gil Kofman whose work in theater and film has been produced and distributed by the Edmonton International Film Festival, Sundance Producers’ Lab, Broadway Play Publishing, and HBO Asia.

“I mean [Kofman] sort of put her in a purgatory of her own making, and it’s sort of a trial purgatory and she’s defending her life,” said BNW Rep founder and Producing Artistic Director Claire Beckman. “She’s defending her choices to the audience in this sort of macabre cabaret and trying to manipulate the audience into loving her, which isn’t going to happen.”

According to Kofman, “Leni’s Last Lament” is more than a cautionary tale, rather, it is a lesson in humanity that demonstrates the complexity of human nature. Together, Kofman and Beckman argue that Riefenstahl is an anti-hero much like J. Robert Oppenheimer, whose creations brought about destruction.

“Some say that without Leni there’d be no Hitler; others say that without Leni there’d be no ‘Star Wars,’” Kofman said. “A controversial filmmaker who directed ‘Triumph of the Will’ for Hitler at his 1934 Nuremberg Rally, Leni Riefenstahl’s work is often credited with creating the Nazi brand and promoting its aesthetic. Despite that, her work is considered groundbreaking and innovative, and is still studied at film schools today.”

actress speaking into microphone in leni's last lament
Throughout the show, Riefenstahl attempts to defend her choices to the audience. Photo courtesy of Gil Kofman

The premiere of “Leni’s Last Lament” is intended to coincide with Women’s History Month, due to Beckman’s personal belief in the need to tell the stories of all women including those who, like  Riefenstahl, are considered complicated or controversial in the eyes of history.

“Women won’t be truly equal until we can see them for all their complexities, and in the 1930s women with Leni’s talent and ambition had very few opportunities,” Beckman said. “Leni’s genius and ambition drove her to make the absolute worst choice in a collaborator, and ‘Leni’s Last Lament’ is both biting and hilarious in its telling of her fascinating story.”

Performances of “Leni’s Last Lament” will take place from March 13-30 at The Invisible Dog Art Center, 51 Bergen St. between Smith and Court streets in Boerum Hill. Tickets begin at $25