Genocide Writ Small

A Holocaust story told—successfully—through puppet theater

Norway may not be the first place you'd set a Holocaust drama, but that's where Polish émigré Moritz Rabinowitz spent the 1930s as a successful tailor and clothing manufacturer. While enjoying relative safety there for a time, he was hardly complacent, using his local prominence to warn countrymen against the coming threat to Jews and Gentiles alike. His failure to leave Norway by 1940, though, when the Nazis invaded, left him a defenseless victim and a footnote to history.

That Rabinowitz's story now comes to America in the form of a 55-minute musical- comedy puppet show hardly diminishes it. Fabrik, a charming and disturbing creation of Wakka Wakka Productions (whose previous Norwegian-themed works include The Death of Little Ibsen), arguably communicates his life more compellingly than would any Spielbergian epic. A mustachioed mini-Rabinowitz, decked out in a Muppet-size double-breasted suit, greets us with a song and a soft-shoe, setting an optimistic tone before genocidal evil rears its ugly head, as it were, in the form of grotesque masks donned by the puppeteers towering above the tiny hero. (In one chillingly nightmarish sequence, a mask brings to life a caricatured cabalist out of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.) Meticulous choreography of actors both human and inanimate, as well as cinematic touches like mock-overhead views and dream sequences, give Fabrik a size well beyond its spare set of nondescript cubes and platforms.

It also helps that David Arkema, Kirjan Waage, and Gwendolyn Warnock—operating bunraku-style in full view, cloaked in black suits and fedoras—are bright and funny actors in their own right, voicing and physicalizing a broad palette of types with great nuance.

Details

Fabrik: The Legend of M. Rabinowitz
By Wakka Wakka Productions
Urban Stages
259 West 30th Street
212-352-3101

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Fabrik is not for children. But by showing us tragedy through the prism of a children's theater, Wakka Wakka (like Art Spiegelman in his Maus books) opens up avenues of emotion beyond sanctimony, challenging us—as in its deliberately tasteless rendering of a concentration-camp cabaret—to laugh along with the defiant laughter of the persecuted.

 
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