On Tuesday night, a crowd gathered at the Isabel Bader Center for Performing Arts to witness the final days of Mata Hari before her execution at the Prison Saint-Lazare in Paris, France. Infamously known as a deceitful femme fatale, Hari tells her story one last time before she’s sent off to her untimely death.
Although the actual event occurred a century ago in 1917, audiences were still able to witness this performance in the musical One Last Night with Mata Hari that opened at the Isabel on Jan. 12.
The cabaret-style stage production by Craig Walker reimagines the life of Mata Hari who was infamous for her role as a double agent in the WWI. Born Margaretha Zelle, Hari was a Dutch exotic dancer and courtesan, who was executed for treason by a French firing squad on suspicion of being a German spy.
Zelle invented her new persona around the male fantasies of the Eastern woman. Her racially ambiguous background allowed her to borrow from other cultures to create an alluring new woman whom history remembers as Mata Hari.
Walker describes Hari as a mythological figure “an exotic, treacherous femme fatale who seduces men, drains them of information, then ruthlessly betrays and discards them.”
Although many believe they know who the real Mata Hari was, One Last Night, tells her story like you’ve never seen it before.
The setting is simplistic with only a piano and chair encompassing the stage. The backdrop is projected onto a blank wall, with the images continuously changing along with the storyline.
Canadian singer Patricia O’Callaghan plays the role of Hari and effortlessly carries the show throughout, performing the majority of the dialogue.
Gregory Oh accompanies O’Callaghan on the piano, portraying the role of Dr. Bizard, a fictional character who aides in telling her life story.
The musical starts with Hari in prison putting on a final show for her inmates where she vows to tell the true story of her escapades. She starts from when she was a little girl and discusses the first time she ever seduced a man, her headmaster.
Hari describes the encounter as both thrilling and shameful, but ultimately she’s drawn to the power she obtained. Little did she know that her seduction was what would lead to her demise.
O’Callaghan is captivating as Hari, able to appropriately tackle the heaviness of her story. She unequivocally embodies both the powerful seductress, but also beautifully displays the vulnerability of the character. O’Callaghan stunningly portrays Hari as she deals with her abusive husband, the betrayal of her lover and the loss of her child.
While majority of the songs were equally well done, there were two individual songs that stood out among the rest.
The most riveting scene takes place during ‘You’ll Be My Son’, a song dedicated to her dying child. The song highlights O’Callaghan’s chilling vocals in a beautiful dedication to her late son. Additionally, the final performance ‘The Passion of Mata Hari’, is a solemn goodbye before she is summoned to her execution.
One Last Night, is an insightful story that allows a more accurate portrayal of the life of Hari. The performance depicts her not only as the destructive, ruthless woman that she’s historically portrayed as, but as a loving, hopeful and ultimately human woman.
Walker’s decision to shed new light on her name created a fascinating tale of a woman trying to figure out the confusion of living during a war. Although she was rightly convicted of treason, you can’t help but feel for the woman who was only trying to live a peaceful life.
The production is captivating in itself, but O’Callaghan’s performance is certainly one to see. It’s hauntingly beautiful, as well as charming and made this audience member wish that perhaps Hari had one more night.
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