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Annette Roman on dysfunctional families, swastikas and being Hitler's Li'l Abomination

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No joke, Annette Roman's father was a Holocaust survivor and her mother once belonged to the Hitler Youth. It's a tricky tightwire to balance, but Roman puts it all into perspective in her solo performance, Hitler's Li'l Abomination, currently showing at the Boulder Fringe Festival. And though she worries that you almost have to have a German-Jewish background to truly get the comic undertone of the piece without being offended, she also hopes audiences will embrace the way she's chosen to deal with a complex and difficult story.

Her parents, both married to others at the time, met at an academic party in England; after they married each other, they moved to the U.S. with three children from her mother's first marriage. Together, they had Roman. And of course, her mother's past was not necessarily the product of a firm belief in the Hitler regime. In fact, Roman says, "She left Germany horrified by what Germany had done." But Hitler's Li'l Abomination does use the swastika as imagery and, conversely, plainly depicts how the pain of his experiences twisted her survivor father's ability to relate to others. You could say that how Roman lets this dysfunctional family history unfold is the real story of the piece.

"Part of my story asks how much does history affect you?," she explains. "What are your choices? How can you avail yourself of love after you've been traumatized? It gets more complicated, too. I empathize more with my mother -- she was a refugee, too, and her family lost everything, but she never once complained about it. She always said that what happened to the Jewish people was much worse. It's not so much about the difference between the Jewish father and the German mother. It's more about the trauma my father had undergone and his inability to maintain normal relationships because of it."

Interestingly enough, Roman didn't even originally set out to do a performance about her family dynamics. "I was trying to write a performance piece about my pets," she says. "But my mother kept sneaking into it, and then my father started sneaking into it. I couldn't tell the story without the story of my family sneaking in, and so I realized how much I really wanted to tell that story."

Three years later, the result is a chronicle that would be devastatingly harrowing were it not for a dry shot of humor: One vignette recalls how her father's bedtime stories sometimes veered onto the subject of his concentration camp remembrances, but she chooses to cut the sadness with a question mark and a sense of the absurd. "I don't know -- I guess his own pain was so in the forefront of his consciousness," Roman notes. "In a way, it was both funny and horrible."

Roman is taking the chance that others will learn something about keeping love in your heart, while still being able to move on. "When I was handing out my promo materials, I made the choice to make it provocative as a way to get people to the show. So I asked my mother, 'Is it okay, using a swastika in ironic way?' She said, 'when I see a swastika, I want to throw up.'"

You still have four more chances to see Roman in Hitler's Li'l Abomination during the Boulder Fringe Festival: Performances are at 9 p.m. tonight, 8:30 p.m. Thursday, 7:30 p.m. Friday and 4 p.m. Saturday at Wesley Chapel on the CU-Boulder campus; admission is $5 to $8. Visit the website for details.

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