The Puppetmaster of Lodz
by Gilles Ségal
Translated by Sara O’Connor
Directed by Brian Roff
June 23-July 7th, then reopens
Sept 13-Oct 7th7th
\ˈhō-lə-ˌkȯst, ˈhä- also -ˌkäst or ˈhȯ-lə-kȯst\
Definition of HOLOCAUST
: a sacrifice consumed by fire
: a thorough destruction involving extensive loss of life especially through fire <a nuclear holocaust> “
“If there is a God, how can He let things like this happen?” asks Herr Finkelbaum, an Auschwitz survivor who has stowed away in an attic for five years refusing to believe the war is over. Indeed, over sixty years after World War II, many of us ask this question, never quite sure if it’s the right question to ask, but still looking over our shoulders afraid we may get an answer. World War II in general, and the Holocaust in particular, burn like a fire clearly in our minds. We all have a relative who fought in it, died in it, or had a family member perish in a ghastly collusion of pain and evil. And if there is a God, how can He let things like this happen?
Simply, no corner of the world was left untouched.
And if you were there, trapped for years in the notoriously worst concentration camp on earth, surrounded with the dead and dying, and if—just if—you happened to escape, how would you survive? Or rather, what kind of person would you be afterward?
Herr Finklebaum (Joby Earle) was that survivor, and recreates his past, and his life, through a series of puppets. He uses his puppets in a largely monologue setting to navigate his humanity through one of the worst times in world history, no easy feat to accomplish. Out of his puppets surfaces a life he once had, clinging to him by strings he cannot let go of. Although Finkelbaum is the Puppet Master, we learn as the play develops that perhaps the puppets have mastery over him. They are, after all, a part of his life and a part of his memories that control his every step.
1. A small figure of a person or animal, having a cloth body and hollow head, designed to be fitted over and manipulated by the hand.
2. A figure having jointed parts animated from above by strings or wires; a marionette.
3. A toy representing a human figure; a doll.
4. One whose behavior is determined by the will of others: a political puppet.
While Finklebaum is locked in his room, the concierge (Julia Gibson) repeatedly attempts to lure him out through the key hole. She tries to convince him the war has been over for five years. “Why should I believe you?” he asks. “They had fake houses. Fake train stations. Fake station masters. Even make believe showers. Why can’t they have fake news?” No variety of guests can convince him the war was over (Lee Sellars).
It is not until a fellow prisoner (Schwartzkopf, played by Jesse Hinson) arrives on Finkelbaum’s door that he realizes the war really is over, and we the audience learn the true nature of the souls dangling from the strings.
Puppetmaster is a wonderful play. It does start slow, and somehow doesn’t pull everything together by Act I. By the time intermission arrives, you’re getting the play, but not feeling the motivation. The true performance arrives later, after intermission, when the humanity of Puppetmaster comes down on you like a hammer.
Earle does a spectacular job. He is extremely competent in pulling together a lengthy piece. Of course he did this with the wonderful support of costars.
“On November 7, 1939, Lodz was incorporated into the Third Reich and the Nazi’s changed its name to Litzmannstadt (“Litzmann’s city”) – named after a German general who died while attempting to conquer Lodz in World War I.
“The next several months were marked by daily round-ups of Jews for forced labor as well as random beatings and killings on the streets. It was easy to distinguish between Pole and Jew because on November 16, 1939 the Nazi’s had ordered Jews to wear an armband on their right arm. The armband was the precursor to the yellow Star of David badge which was soon to follow on December 12, 1939.”
Reviewer: Richard DiMaggio