John Fisher took his audience through an interactive history lesson at The Marsh in San Francisco. Fisher both wrote and performed “A History of World War II: The D-Day Invasion to the Fall of Berlin,” a one-man show that served as both a recap of world history and a personal essay.
Donning a bright red polo shirt and matching sneakers, Fisher radiated the utmost passion and enthusiasm for the subject at hand. His vibrant attire represented an almost child-like obsession with the war. Even his speech was initially fast-paced and frenzied. Thus, it was occasionally difficult to keep up with his fervent monologues at first. Fisher’s tone, however, slowly but surely became rhythmic and steady as the show progressed, touching on more sensitive topics related to war. The diminuendo of this production is possibly the result of Fisher’s gradual ebbing of energy. Intentional or not, the pacing reflected Fisher’s break out of innocence into adulthood.
Fisher managed to maintain his grip on his audience through two main methods. The first was his many tangents — talking about popular culture surrounding war history. Through mentions of famous actors such as Robert Redford, Anthony Hopkins, Tom Cruise and more, Fisher was able to successfully appeal to the audience and make his obsession with Hollywood’s portrayal of Nazis a bit more comprehensible. Fisher does not forget to mention that this obsession with war culture is quite dangerous as it might be easily misunderstood for the glorification of Nazis. Yet, by humorously revisiting how “hot” the Nazi uniforms were and acknowledging their acute military tactics, Fisher effectively assuages this anxiety.
The second method of capturing the audience’s undivided attention was the utilization of the entire stage. Although the set was exceptionally minimal — with two stools and a small table — Fisher was fearless in covering as much ground as he could. From rolling around on the floor to mimicking explosions by slamming his palms on the aisles, Fisher was almost unforgiving to his body; exaggerated physical expression was his take on reckless slapstick humor. By the middle of this production, he was covered in sweat, and his halfway untucked polo shirt attested to his relentless drama. This kind of catharsis was refreshing to see as it proved that Fisher was not afraid to get a little messy and chaotic in order to deliver the best entertainment he could offer.
Despite the fact that this production mainly emphasizes its comedic aspects, Fisher raised serious and crucial questions regarding the war that he poses to his audience. For instance, through references to historical essays, he questioned whether the United States and the United Kingdom were mere bystanders to the Holocaust. He claimed that turning a blind eye to the genocide of Jews is, in fact, a form of direct perpetration. Fisher also let the audience in on what he called, “The big secret of World War II” — the fact that the war was won with Russian blood. Twenty million Russian lives were lost on the Eastern Front. Furthermore, by referring to literature such as “A Woman in Berlin,” Fisher also enlightens the audience about the mass rape of German women by Soviet soldiers.
It is memorable and honorable that even within his mainly humorous sketch, Fisher paid respects to the lives destroyed by the monstrosity called war. He used these tangents as a way to self-reflect on his naivete in childhood when he was not able to fully understand what war really meant. This shift in tone effectively reflected the culmination of what he had learned.
In the short timespan of 85 minutes, Fisher offers an exceptionally comprehensive run-through of the most important events of World War II. Grounding his love for history in personal experience and heartwarming anecdotes, Fisher made the show all the more endearing and intriguing. Delicately embedded within Fisher’s fondness for World War II was his love for his brother, his idols, his audience and humanity.
Contact Sophie Kim at [email protected].