Broken Nails

Created by Anna Skubik with Wiczy Teatr
Written, directed and set design by Romuald Wicza-Pokojski
Featuring Anna Skubik
The Club at La MaMa, 74A E 4th Street
production web site:

November 11, 2010 – November 21, 2010

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
November 14, 2010

Marlene and attendant (Anna Skubik)

Upstairs at the Club at La MaMa, up past the “Troll Door” and a tribute image to Ellen Stewart in the stairwell, into a blackbox set up with cafe table chairs up front and a bar in the corner.  Surrounded by New York accents, Polish accents (at this performance at any rate), friendly voices, all game for an adventure.  House music lulls with train whistles and clank of machinery.  And an empty stage save a theatrical trunk stamped with cities and performance spaces with meaning in Dietrich’s life.  In this 49th season of La MaMa programming, the months of October and November are programmed with a “Puppet Series” at all three theatres.

In this space, in this moment, Lili Marlene herself comes to life.  Puppeteer (Anna Skubik) plays Dietrich’s companion/maid/confidante and, of course, Dietrich.  In a show that doesn’t entirely congeal yet is inspired by Dietrich’s end of life reality Skubik troupes valiantly.  This is the Dietrich of the final years of her life, blending the concert performances in America and Europe with her secluded final months in her Paris apartment.  These “concert” performances sometimes were famously almost entirely “look at her she’s still alive and plastered into that dress” and extended milked applause (evoked at one point in this show).  The final years were also filled with  taking bizarre concoctions in search of her own fountain of youth (also dramatized) as well as having surgeries or otherwise stretching her face into a mask of its original frame (powerfully on point with this puppet, this head, this face, this presentation).

Our hostess Skubik demonstrates flexible acrobatic and puppetry and stage movement skills.  She also sings in the voice of the companion and the familiar diction and cadence of Dietrich.  Music choices are not from the familiar Dietrich canon but, oddly, from the musical Cabaret (“Mein Herr” and “Maybe This Time”).  The combination of performance and human fighting with puppet and symbolic story telling gradually wore me down.  My frustration is that this puppet master could have told a straightforward story of our Miss Dietrich.  Instead, the story written and directed by Romuald Wicza-Pokojski punishes both the puppet and the audience with ugly details and confusing images and unexplained events and indulgent transformations. Some moments are resonant (the performance of “Maybe This Time” stands out).  Others raise questions or just seem moves of convenience (e.g. the struggle that results in the attendant laying puppet Dietrich out on the stage behind the large prop trunk — is she dead?)  In the end, we have taken an intriguing and slightly disturbing journey, symbolically and disjointedly scripted, performed with exquisite skill.

© Martha Wade Steketee (November 16, 2010)

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