New York and Connecticut theater reviews and news

Ethnic Theater - Jewish

4th Street Theatre, Manhattan

Performer Donnie Mather has taken the famed Allen Ginsberg poem “Kaddish” and transformed it into a solo piece. It has recently enjoyed a brief run off-off-Broadway, but speaks so poignantly to audiences in this dramatic form that it could well go on to future New York productions.

In a makeshift little theater housed in an old East Village building, this showing reminds one of the earlier off-off-Broadway scene. Much can be made of little—and, in this case, it certainly does. On the pocket-size stage, with few props and limited background images, Mather has all he needs to give us a vibrant Allen Ginsberg.

The Ginsberg poem is appropriately named “Kaddish” (the Jewish prayer for the dead). And though Ginsberg would later become a Buddhist, his Jewish heritage is inherent in his work, never far from the surface.

“Kaddish” is Ginsberg’s agonizing tribute to his own mother, a schizophrenic whom he saw through numerous hospitalizations, electroshock treatment, and, ultimately, a lobotomy. As a 13-year-old, Ginsberg took on enormous responsibility. His father and older brother Eugene were somewhat removed from the scene. Allen was in charge. And, though revolted and horrified, he loved and tended his mother. It was a responsibility—and resentment—he would feel all his life.

These life experiences would provide the necessary elements for a strong voice and a visionary poet. Born and raised in New Jersey, Ginsberg would move on to a larger world, becoming one of the driving forces of the Beat Generation. With colleagues Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady and others, he would be the spokesman for the rebels of the ‘50s and ‘60s. And though his poem “Howl” brought him international fame, it is “Kaddish” which speaks most directly to his own experience. Using a style somewhat reminiscent of Walt Whitman, but also influenced by William Carlos Williams and other contemporary poets, Ginsberg’s scattered images and chaotic phrases flash through the poem like stab wounds,

Mather gives endless variety to his performance, using body language, facial expressions, and, of course, the text itself. “Kaddish” is a fine tribute, not only to Naomi Ginsberg, but to the poet as well. And, indeed, to the off-off-Broadway scene.

--Irene Backalenick
Oct. 4, 2011

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