Friday, December 07, 2007

The Puppetmaster Of Lodz

photo: Jim Baldassare

This play's title character is a puppeteer who escaped the Birkenau concentration camp for refuge in the attic room of a boarding house; the landlady has been assuring him for five years that the war is over - she even brings people in from the street to corroborate - but he's convinced it's a trick and he won't open his door to anyone. The play is at its most involving when someone's at his door - there's not only the suspense of what it will finally take to persuade him, there's also the dramatic charge in the meanwhile of watching him cling to his fear-based beliefs despite all evidence. Unfortunately, the majority of the play involves only the main character alone in his room, interacting with his puppets: it's far too contrived that he's rehearsing a puppet show to tell the story of the trauma he experienced at the camp and how he got to the room in the first place. More regretably, there's a subtext missing here that would somewhat redeem the contrivance and tell us *why* he's driven to do this. Is he dramatizing his story in order to understand it? Is it his way of clinging to the truth? With these scenes played and directed just page-deep, the play's potential for credible psychological portraiture is limited. What is well-communicated is the character's sad isolation and his pervasive suspiciousness: the play's final scenes, which bring about a profound change, are powerful and affecting.

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