Arts & Culture

Jews Are Puppets At The 2011 soloNova Festival

The soloNova festival is an annual NYC-based theater festival that focuses on one-man plays that incorporate multi-media in interesting ways. Read More

By / May 23, 2011
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Two shows at this year’s soloNova Festival caught our eye: Polanski, Polanski a meditation on the life of Roman Polanksi, and And Stockings For The Ladies a portrayal of post-holocaust Germany through the eyes of Canadian relief soldiers.  The soloNova festival is an annual NYC-based theater festival that focuses on one-man plays that incorporate multi-media in interesting ways.

And Stockings For The Ladies

soloNova usually focuses on NYC-based artists, but each year it includes one act from elsewhere.  The Canadian trio behind And Stockings For The Ladies consists of director Zach Fraser, playwright Attila Clemann and Performer Brendan McMurtry Howlett.  Playing a multitude of roles, Howlett tells the story of The 84th Disarmament Group of The Royal Canadian Air Force, sent to Germany just after the disbanding of The Third Reich.  The soldiers of this group are stationed in a bunker not far from Bergen-Belsen, stuck doing mostly paper work and complaining that they missed out on “the action.”   They are told expressly to stay out of the Army’s way and not to enter the camps.

The story focuses most of all on Ted Aplin, a Schindler-like squad leader who, after visiting Bergen-Belsen, feels an overwhelming need to help the survivors of the camp.  Much to his commanding officer’s chagrin, Aplin coaxes his men to have their families send supplies for the ailing survivors, (such as stockings for the ladies) which he manages to then smuggle into the camp.  The other main character, a young Canadian-born Jew is taken by Aplin to visit the camp and finds himself asking major philosophical questions about circumstance and existence.

In an interesting turn, we find out mid-way through the play that, while all the other characters are portrayed by the actor, the Jews in Belsen are portrayed by odd looking, almost Jim Henson-like puppets.  While this is a bit off-putting at first, considering the near-comical appearance of these big nosed, Dark Crystal style, monster puppets, it quickly fades into the background. By plays end, the puppetry feels integral to the telling of this story especially during one moment when a female puppet describes the, “sheer dignity in a pair of stockings.” Howlett, throughout the show, switches from Canadian young man, to German little boy, to German Woman, to puppeteer without missing a beat.  While it seems jarring at first, the story is compelling enough, and the performer skilled enough, that one forgets the fact that only one person and a few puppets occupy the stage. Thus, the show overcomes the biggest challenge of a performing a narrative with only one person.  And Stockings For The Ladies is well told story, unlike any Holocaust tale out there and absolutely worth catching while it’s still here in NYC.

Polanski, Polanski

Regardless of where one stands on the Polanski argument, few can deny his talent, or how compelling a life he’s lived.  Polanski’s story forces one to examine their beliefs and opinions on questions of justice, culture and sexuality, however, Polanski, Polanski doesn’t really concern itself with these issues.  With a mixture of monologues and video, the play re-enacts three pinnacle moments in the filmmaker’s life.

A few tiles rest on the stage as the show opens, and it’s clear exactly which moment in Polanski’s life is being played out.  Grant Neale, an actor who looks haltingly similar to Polanski, enters with a camera around his neck and begins one of the many, neurotic, poetic, rambling monologues that make up the play.  Talking to an invisible young girl, Roman switches between addressing himself and instructing the girl to pose as he photographs her.  With each snap of the camera, a new box appears on a large screen behind the scenery, making up the background of the actual photo Polanski took of a 13-year-old girl in Jack Nicholson’s Jacuzzi.

People interested in the social issues behind the Polasnki story, law and justice, or even the director’s troubled background, might be disappointed by Polasnki, Polanski.  In this particular life story, it’s near impossible to paint a clear picture out of only three events.  However, looked at from a more psychological perspective, the show successfully delves into the psyche of a dark and shattered man.  Monologists could draw a great deal from the personal and sharp inner thought that’s broadcast throughout the show. To be, or not to be in this play is something much more vulgar, and the result is often quite provocative.