- Fabrik: The legend of M. Rabinowitz
In FABRIK: The Legend of M. Rabinowitz, the Norwegian American puppet troupe Wakka Wakka recounted the true story of the life and death of Moritz Rabinowitz, a Jewish haberdasher persecuted when Hitler’s Holocaust reached Norway. Composed of a series of scenes performed by puppets and masked actors and based on Yiddish and Norwegian folktales as well as exhaustive research into the reallife Rabinowitz, FABRIK engaged the subject of the Holocaust and genocide in a provocative way. The production evoked Art Spiegelman’s now-iconic graphic novel Maus by unsettling perceptions of the Holocaust through the use of genres we typically associate with children, such as cartoons and puppets. The puppet Rabinowitz, a short, balding, mustachioed man in an cream-colored suit, would not look out of place on Sesame Street (or Avenue Q). With deft plotting, innovative staging, and delicately rendered puppets, FABRIK: The Legend of M. Rabinowitz not only told a wrenchingly moving story, but also performed the inequalities and bigotries that cause genocide.
At the beginning of the piece, Rabinowitz introduced himself in a song-and-dance number as a hardworking, opportunistic man enraptured with the financial potential of his business. Rabinowitz has also become a spokesperson for Jews in Norway, speaking out against anti-Semitic rumblings in the Norwegian press. For all of this, FABRIK refused to represent Rabinowitz in wholly positive terms: his wife berated him for his many mistresses, and he is puffed up with his own self-importance. Rabinowitz’s ambitions for his business have supplanted his concern for his family. As he strategized to ensure the bright future of his corporation, the audience was reminded of what is to come.
The puppeteers Peter Russo, Kirjan Waage, and Gwendolyn Warnock, clad in dark suits and fedoras, gave voice to more than a dozen different characters. Hovering over their puppets, the performers’ attire and physical presence imbued the proceedings with a sense of omnipresent authoritarianism. Although the story of FABRIK centers largely on Rabinowitz, the host of minor figures who pop up revealed various aspects of Rabinowitz’s personality and story: his endlessly put-upon business partner Mr. Askeland; his daughter Edith, who performs a delightfully awkward ballet for his amusement; and Winston Churchill, who speaks to Rabinowitz through the radio, warning him of the rising power of the Nazis in Europe. These characters deepened the audience’s [End Page 108] attachment to Rabinowitz, and compelled the viewer to connect the puppet with his real-life historical counterpart. One was always aware that something would eventually happen to Rabinowitz, his family, and many millions of others.
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There were many moments in the production when Wakka Wakka used the versatilities of puppet theatre to explore unique modes of spectatorship. In one sequence, Rabinowitz drove through the streets of the city in his car—the puppet appeared to be seated in the backseat, while the spectator viewed him through the car window. Simultaneously, a small model of the entire city itself sprung from a piece of the set and allowed the audience to track Rabinowitz’s progress as on a GPS system. The audience was provided with a bird’s-eye view of Rabinowitz’s car rushing through the miniaturized city—a city that, for that moment, seemed to have everything to offer the businessman. In another sequence, Rabinowitz and his wife lay in a bed pitched vertically so that the audience viewed the couple from above. As the couple argued and made love, the omniscient spectator saw Rabinowitz at his most vulnerable.
In the most inspired part of the play, Rabinowitz dreamed that he was swimming through the ocean depths while being chased by a shark-like Hitler puppet. The company staged the chase in an eerie, swirling gloom that deployed impressive sound and lighting design. Eventually, a shofar—the ceremonial horn used in Jewish religious services—materialized out of the murkiness, floating like...