theater (reviews)

review: kaddish

Kaddish (or The Key in the Window)

Based on the poem by Allen Ginsberg
Created and performed by Donnie Mather
Directed by Kim Weild
The Adaptations Project at New York Theatre Workshop 83 East 4th Street
September 29, 2011 — October 9, 2011
production web site

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
September 29, 2011

Donnie Mather as Allen Ginsberg. Photo by Ben Strothman.

Kaddish is a movement and projection-based piece originally presented at the 2009 New York Fringe Festival and based on Allen Ginsberg‘s resonant 50-year-old poem of mourning and remembrance that marks the inaugural outing of a new collaborative enterprise: The Adaptations Project.  Dannie Mather is the creator and performer of Kaddish as well as the new company’s founding artist.  There is no question that this piece comes for him from a deep and committed place.  He is inspired to move, he and his collaborators have set this piece with simple pieces that work (chair, lamp, suitcase), and projections (by C. Andrew Bauer) that inspire, and white sheet shrouded hanging window frames invoke the Jewish tradition of covering mirrors during initial stages of mourning as well as efficiently and effectively provide projection screens (set and lighting by Brian H. Scott).  The set is elegantly theatrical, the projections are varied and illustrative, moments of the poem are powerful.  And the movement distracts.

Here’s the challenge of this presentation: this is a verbal piece presented by a talented performer who (from his credits) comes from a movement tradition.  The words are often not clearly articulated, odd words or phrases are sometimes emphasized for reasons other than for meaning.  I find that I am most moved by the presentation when performer is still, props laid aside, projections fixed.  I am less interested in sections during which the performer dons attire and adopts a falsetto delivery when representing Ginsberg’s mother, or symbolically marches across and around the stage.  The quiet power of the words themselves can move without circumnavigation by the performer.  When the performer is still we are able to (as we desire to) focus on the man Allen Ginsberg and his often disturbing and eventually resolved feelings about the life and death of his mother.

© Martha Wade Steketee (October 3, 2011)

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