New York City Theater
Urban Stages, Manhattan
Can puppets tell the story of the great Jewish tragedy, of Shoah? Can small dolls cavort about the stage and come near to the meaning of the Holocaust?
In a kind of miracle, “Fabrik” does just that. The American premiere of this work, which originated in Norway, is now off-Broadway at the Urban Stages, thanks to the Wakka Wakka Productions. This gifted company uses puppeteers, rod puppets, masks, and music to recreate a vanished world. Inspired by both Yiddish and Nordic folk tales, “Fabrik” was written, directed and designed by the gifted Wakka Wakka ensemble—David Arkema, Gabrielle Brechner, Kirjan Waage, and Gwendolyn Warnock.
“Fabrik” offers the true-life saga of one Moritz Rabinowitz, a Polish Jew who had emigrated to Norway in 1911. Beginning in Haugesund, a small fishing village, he went on to build a vast clothing empire in Norway. Norwegians had known few Jews, but that did not deter them from practicing a virulent anti-Semitism. Yet Rabinowitz prevailed. And indeed his voice prevailed. While expanding his remarkable business, he also wrote columns for Norway’s newspapers, offering his searching, provocative views on Europe’s social and economic problems. Early on, he warned his countrymen of the dangers of Nazism, a warning that only the Nazis themselves heeded. It served to place him first on the Nazi hit list, sending him and his family to the Nazi death camps in 1940 (when the Nazis invaded Norway). Like so many other Jews in Europe, Rabinowitz thought he would be safe. When given the opportunity to leave Norway, he chose to stay, to continue his writing. Was he heroic—or merely foolhardy?
As to the production itself, Wakka Wakka offers a highly-creative level of puppetry. The puppets themselves prove to be more than human, with captivating, more-than-lifelike, faces. (But did all the male Jews have to have big noses?) Yet the viewer feels a genuine concern for their fates. Moments of humor also exist in this dark world-- when Moritz and his wife argue in bed or his little daughter performs her ballet skills.
It is quite remarkable that “Fabrik” would prove to be a hit in Norway, according to its press notices. Though Norway was once a foremost Nazi collaborator, it would seem to be a different country today. The life and views of Moritz Rabinowitz have managed to capture their interest, as indeed it has the audiences of New York City.
-- Irene Backalenick
February 13, 2008