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A CurtainUp Review
Wakka Wakka Production's Fabrik uses hand-and-rod puppets (created by Kirjan Waage), masks, mini-sets and props, music composed by the ensemble, and a score by Lars Peter Hagen to tell the story of Rabinowitz, a successful Polish immigrant who "built a factory from a button" only to see his life destroyed during the Holocaust.
With Danny Goldstein (Walmartopia) as directing consultant, three puppeteers — David Arkema, Kirjan Waage and Gwendolyn Warnock— manipulate and give voice to the puppets. Dressed in black suits and black fedoras, they portray over two dozen characters including Rabinowitz; his wife, Johanna; their daughter, Edith; his employee, Mr. Askeland; Hitler; and Winston Churchill.
In the hands of this capable trio, these puppets become intensely human and their fate unbearably painful. Rabinowitz is a likeable and self-assured businessman who is guided through life by a long list of ethical rules that sometimes seem almost Talmudic. He is a loving, if not completely faithful husband and a devoted father. He is also a kind-hearted boss and a principled businessman, proud of the quality of the suits produced by his factory. At times his inflated idea of who he is can be a bit ridiculous, especially considering his diminutive size as a puppet. But like Sesame Street's Bert and Ernie, in Yiddish he would be called a mensch.
Inspired by Nordic and Yiddish folktales and informed by research of the time period, as well as the writings of Rabinowitz, his family, workers and countrymen, Fabrik blends European cabaret with traditional puppetry and reportage. Puppets fly through the air, dance, drive in cars, ride in boats, live, love and die.
Side by side with realism, there is a surreal quality to the play. Sometimes the puppeteers wear masks. Occasionally the puppets themselves wear masks. Thus fantasy is layered on fantasy. Dramatic sound and lighting created by the ensemble emphasize the demonic rise of Hitler and the spiritual nature of Rabinowitz's struggle.
The ever-present element of fantasy heightens its sorrowful reality. Fabrik takes the audience out of flesh-and-blood existence to a world beyond time and place . . . a world of powerful emotion and memory. . . a world where tragedy and comedy collide. . . a world that unmistakably and unrelentingly resembles life.