Superman has always been the archetypal strongman meant to embody Truth, Justice, and the American Way , making him the quintessential American superhero. But then again, what defines American? And what defines superhero? Actually, what even defines strength?
Well, there’s a new play in town that decides to address these issues in fine style, and that play is . . .
What: The History of Invulnerability
Behind every great superhero is a determined creator. In 1930s America, that creator was usually a young Jewish man with an active imagination. Katz’s play illuminates the story of Jerry Siegel—the brains behind Superman’s brawn—and the imagined struggle between the creative father and his uber-mensch son. Siegel wrestles to retain control of his famous comic book sensation as America is drawn into WWII. Recommended for ages 16 and up due to mature themes and brief, modest nudity.
When: June 6th – July 8th
Where: Theater J, 1529 16th St, Washington DC
Metro: Dupont Circle, Red
How Much: $30
Pro Tip: No, it’s not Superman walking across America or Superman being a Superdick to Lois Lane just to show he can. It’s not even Superman growing a mullet to show how with the times he is.
This is Superman seen through the lens of one of his creators, Jerry Siegel, and all that entails as a Jewish second-generation immigrant making a living by writing for the funnies during World War 2.
I had a chance to sit down with director Shirley Serotsky and actors David Deblinger (Jerry Siegel) and Tim Getman (Superman) in order to go over their takes on Superman and comic book superheroes in general.
Q: First off, if you could have any superpowers, what would it be and why?
David Deblinger: Shapeshifter might be fun
Tim Getman: But you already are that, as an actor.
David: Yeah but then I can be anything. It’s kind of hard to make myself six feet tall right now. But I was into comics, too, like Robby Reed. The Dial H for Hero. A thousand different heroes all at once.
Tim: Top three – flying and breathing underwater would be awesome, but really, teleportation. That would be really handy.
Shirley Serotsky: I was gonna say teleportation but now I gotta come up with something else. Time travel is a good one. Time travel would be great. But then, would you show up dressed appropriately?
[insert further conversation on the implications of traveling through time while in modern dress]
Q: If you could design your own superhero or superhero costume?
David: I already did that. David Man.There was a mirror next to my parents’ bed. And I would just run down the hallway, and jump onto the bed and watch myself in the mirror, flying.
Tim: Oh, man. I locked myself in the bathroom once, pretending I was a superhero. This bathroom had a little window, like, with a 12 ft drop. I dropped down and totally had to go to the hospital.
Shirley: The Wonder Twins. I have a twin brother.
Tim: No capes. I’ve seen The Incredibles.
Shirley: Do the costumes need to be functional? Do they need to help you?
David: Joseph’s Technicolor Dream Coat, did that do things? Invisible, magical costume?
Tim: It can’t get in the way. You don’t want it to get tangled in anything
Shirley: I don’t find the female superhero costumes all that practical. There’s no sports bra in this one.
Tim: More and more, in the Olympics, people’s uniforms look like superhero costumes. They all look like superheroes.
Q: If you take away Superman’s powers, what makes him a hero?
David: Compassion and the desire to do good.
Tim: A survivor. That’s in this play, too. Surviving or not.
Shirley: The other thread in this play is scenes in a concentration camp. There we see some people with very strong beliefs and souls who don’t have superpowers. What can they do? They do what they can? What other ways would he find to be a survivor?
Tim: It was interesting to see in the Avengers, and wonder, gosh, you ever think Hawkeye and Black Widow sit around and feel useless? But they’re badass in their own way.
Q: Is he relevant to today’s modern audience?
Shirley: Yes. A citizen of the world versus a citizen of America. Our comic books now, blue or red? Which side would they lean on? I would say, to step away from the political, I would hope that Superman, like myself (as left-leaning as they come) there are many things about the true idea of the American way that I can totally believe in. There are many different ways in which people say”This is the American Way.” I should hope that it wouldn’t be a partisan issue.
Tim: Superman was never one that I really liked. I didn’t feel like he had evolved. I never really connected with him. I was very aware of the hypocrisies. If you really dig, he has some yin and yang. Clark Kent and Superman. He uses violence, although he fights for peace. Never really dark enough, and he’s still not dark enough for our time. Like when he fights Batman, it’s always explained as an accident.
Shirley: But why does he have to[explain his violence]?
David: But there are so many shades. I remember watching President Bush saying “We are a beacon of light,” and thinking nobody owns light and nobody owns freedom. It all exists within us.
Tim: In this play, we do have a Superman with many different shades.
Shirley: There’s the orphan thing. Why so many people are not Superman people, the image of Superman alone in a world where he’s the only one of his kind. Which is different from Batman’s angst. It’s addressed a little bit in the play. To think of a guy who, this isn’t even his planet, and he’s going to do all this to make this the best world that he can, and then go home to no one else like him. That loneliness
David: Being one of the others. To be the one who reads, finding something magical in art. The other, immigrant experience, Jewish experience.
Tim: And then the parallel, with Jerry and his son. The son comes out and talks about the feeling of loneliness and growing up without a father.
Q: Which is the real persona? Clark Kent or Kal-El?
Tim: He consciously puts on the Superman persona. From the perspective of the character in this play, like, maybe neither one of them is really who he is. I’ve yet to find out. We’re actually working on that right now. I would say, both are a mask or costume. Besides, it’s the planet that gives him powers, right? Like, on Krypton, he would just be a mild-mannered man.
David: All of us have these masks and personalities that mask who we are. What is super? What is strength? Constantly trying to move though different levels, like Dante, of finding an acceptance of the part of us that is individual and the part of us that is bigger.
Q: Are you looking forward to being recognized as Superman in DC?
Tim: They are big shoes to fill. It is a little intimidating. There are going to be expectations. Be it body type and voice. People are going to expect things. I’m trying to take it in a more human way.
Shirley: Tim’s wife played a character based on Marilyn Monroe. There was that challenge to find what is the essence of this character. What suggestions of physicality. There are so many real people who show up in this play. How much do you channel these people?
Tim: And because there are so many real people in the play, it kind of gives dramatic license. At the same time, I’m the one wearing the damn suit. Actually the reason they cast me was ’cause I’m the tallest actor in town.
Q: If you could portray another superhero?
David: I love Hulk, yeah! Or The Wolf Man, from the movies. I used to do that in high school. I used to go on the subway, when American Werewolf in Paris was in, I used to be like [growling].
Tim: What did people do?
David: People usually laughed, by the end. I went to Manhattan School of Arts so that kind of thing happened.