Right-wing thugs run amok; the minister of propaganda is a master of his craft; enemies of the state are intimidated, arrested, and tortured in secret prisons; basic civil liberties are suspended; the government's spying apparatus is everywhere; and a not-very-bright war criminal is running the country. So much for the United States today. Last night I went to see Cabaret.

Shadowbox's "Cabaret" is not your usual Easton fare. It is a musical, well sung and danced, but we all know the unhappy ending. What makes the stage version of Cabaret so provocative are the original Nazi newsreels playing in between acts. We see a desperate, unqualified extremist clawing his way to power after losing a contested election. After assuming power, we witness the new nationalist leader taking advantage of the tragedy of the Reichstag fire to suspend the German constitution. Within a month, the first concentration camp is opened, with prisoners forced into slave labor as the government spin doctors tell the public that 'work makes freedom.'

As the Enabling Act emboldens the Nazi rise to power in 1933, life in Berlin's decadent cabarets became doomed dens of escapism for those in denial. The underlying struggle in Cabaret is between the business as usual crowd of Germans who see the changing political trends as just a passing fad and the American novelist, Cliff Bradshaw, played by Tom Cardinal, who realized that Hitler and his brownshirts mean exactly what they say. Bradshaw is a would-be novelist, but in real life, there were those like New York Tribune editor Leland Stowe who understood, as the title of his 1933 book declares Nazi Germany Means War.

Cardinal's quintessential American looks and earnest acting suits him well in his role as a budding idealist who throws down the gauntlet to the Nazis and takes a beating for it.

Julie Klein turns in a sympathetic performance as the morally compromised Fraulein Schneider whose fear s of government repression clashes with her love of a Jewish suitor.

Perhaps the best performance comes from Amy Lay as the Emcee of the cabaret. Her intriguing androgynous persona and ability to sing well in German, French and English set the proper mood during the nightclub scenes.

The Shadowbox production works precisely because the newsreels reveal the historical facts of Hitler and his Nazis while at the same time offering us a glimpse into how ordinary people reacted, adapted or embraced the evil.

Like Camus' great work, The Plague, Shadowbox's Cabaret elicits the necessary emotions that allow the audience to think the unthinkable and pose basic moral questions, such as: how should I act as a person of conscience?

What Cabaret achieves is a forced consideration of not Sinclair Lewis' 'can it happen here?' in contemplating the rise of American fascism, but the more difficult question ' is it already happening here?

Cabaret is playing at the Easton Shadowbox location now through May 13 with Sunday shows at 2:30 and 7:30pm.