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The Puppetmaster of Lodz

By John Barry | Posted 4/10/2002

The Puppetmaster of Lodz

Gille Segal

The Performance Workshop Theatre Company has temporarily relocated to Brooklyn Park, but The Puppetmaster of Lodz is well worth the trip. Directed by Marlyn Robinson, Gille Segal's two-act play (translated from French by Isabelle Sanche) is the wrenching, sometimes funny, and haunting story of a Holocaust survivor. It's about burying the dead, dealing with the wreckage, and moving on. Don't let those issues intimidate you, though. Robinson's production of Puppetmaster both entertains and delights; it just doesn't do it in ways you might expect.

Puppetmaster takes place in 1950 in a Berlin garret, where Samuel Finkelbaum has been holed up ever since he escaped from the Birkenau concentration camp. Refusing to believe the war is over, this puppeteer has locked himself in his tiny apartment, where he has created a world of puppets in place of the one that he thinks has been destroyed by Holocaust. These include a life-size puppet of his (now-dead) pregnant wife. Meanwhile, the building's concierge and several others from outside valiantly try to convince him to open his door and achieve closure. Finkelbaum defiantly shuts himself off and gets absorbed in his puppet production of The Life of Samuel Finkelbaum. It takes a while for the tension built into Segal's premise to develop, but by the end of the first act Finkelbaum's puppet world has become a painfully real reflection of the horrors he is fleeing.

As Finkelbaum, Marc Horwitz effectively tackles the difficult role of a man whose experiences have left him paranoid and bitterly ironic. The irony gives the play its edge as the two worlds--outside Finkelbaum's door and inside his mind--collide. But as Finkelbaum's friends--played by a sterling supporting cast that includes Benjamin Thomas as a fellow survivor, Marianne Angelella as the long-suffering concierge, and Tim Marrone, juggling four personas--try to convince him to leave his puppets behind, it becomes more and more difficult to tell which world is more real. Since this a play about a puppeteer, that's a good sign.

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