New York and Connecticut theater reviews and news

Ethnic Theater - Jewish

"Knock on Wood"
13th Street Repertory Theater, Manhattan

Schmulik Calderon sits on the stage of the 13th Street Repertory Theater and tells his story to the audience. Though “Knock on Wood” can hardly be called a play, it is storytelling of the first order—intense, personal, and engaging.

The facts themselves raise the stakes of this one-man show to a high level. Calderon is an Israeli who lived through the Yom Kippur War of 1973, battling Egyptians and his own personal demons. Like other young men and boys of the time, he is hustled into the Army. Never mind that he keeps telling superior officers he is an actor, not a combat soldier. Does any one care about that kind of nonsense during the crisis? No! He is given a uniform and a gun—an Uzi, whose wooden handle allows him to “knock on wood” frequently. He quickly finds himself on the front line—at times surrounded by the enemy. Fortunately, he bonds closely with a more seasoned soldier named Jonathan. The irony is that Calderon, just prior to the War, had been performing in a Haifa theater, portraying a combat soldier named Jonathan.

There have certainly been other tales of the Yom Kippur War--in print, on stage, in film. But Calderon’s offering is unique, seen from within a soldier’s mind and heart. The story, as it unfolds, is funny, poignant, and, above all, human. Calderon’s acting skills serves the piece well, as when he describes the phone call made to his parents at the War’s close. His prepared words are forgotten, turning into one long impassioned howl. “Moooommmmmm”, he sobs. Or, as they would say in Israel, “Ima”!

The informality and intimacy of this off-Broadway house is ideal for this kind of theater work, if indeed it can be called theater. But “Knock on Wood” is certainly art, created from the raw stuff of life. And it is only now, some 30 years later, that Calderon has been able to assemble the pieces and turn them into a viable and moving art form.

-- Irene Backalenick
May 20, 2005

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