The Puppetmaster of Lodz

Finkelbaum, a puppetmaster from Lodz, Poland, rehearses his new big show, which reflects the horror of his camp experience and his guilt for stealing bread from a fellow prisoner. The concierge, meanwhile, keeps delivering people to his door, such as a Russian soldier (Gary Lamb), to talk him out of his room. Only after she finds a fellow escapee named Schwartzkopf (Tony Burton) does Finkelbaum really start to listen.

Finkelbaum, a puppetmaster from Lodz, Poland, rehearses his new big show, which reflects the horror of his camp experience and his guilt for stealing bread from a fellow prisoner. The concierge, meanwhile, keeps delivering people to his door, such as a Russian soldier (Gary Lamb), to talk him out of his room. Only after she finds a fellow escapee named Schwartzkopf (Tony Burton) does Finkelbaum really start to listen.

French playwright Gilles Segal, who premiered the play in 1984 in Paris, is served well by his translator, Sara O’Connor. The twists near the ending force the audience to reassess what they’ve seen and to feel Finkelbaum’s sadness even more.

Disparaging God, Finkelbaum treats his puppets and marionettes as human beings, listening to them, talking to them, and more. His manipulations reveal visually, sometimes silently, more than he could ever say.

One by one, the emaciated prisoner puppets fall. When Finkelbaum comes to his puppet wife, the horror he feels as he has to throw her in the imagined ditch with the other newly dead clearly resounds.

Garcia’s emotional rendering of Finkelbaum conveys, with a wallop, a man nearing insanity. Garcia’s performance sears, aided by Jeremiah Morris’ deft and subtle direction.

Terry Evans’ powerful set design, built slightly askew, reflects the dour time. Lisa Aimee Sturz’s puppet creations and design communicate in detail Finkelbaum’s interior hauntings.

Jon Gottlieb’s sound design, David Carlton’s light design, and the costumes by Diane Ross add to the play’s professionalism. One couldn’t imagine a better production to inaugurate the new location and rebirth of a theater group, especially one as well regarded as Actors Alley.

The Puppetmaster of Lodz

(Actors Alley, North Hollywood; 45 seats; $ 15 top)

Production: Actors Alley presents a drama in two acts by Gilles Segal, translated by Sara O'Connor; director, Jeremiah Morris; producers, Lynn Lowry, Carl Strano; sets, Terry Evans; lighting design, David Carlton; sound design, Jon Gottlieb; costumes, Diane Ross; original music and arrangements, Jerry Grant; puppet creations and design, Lisa Aimee Sturz. Opened June 1, 1995; reviewed June 17; runs through July 9. Finkelbaum ... Joe Garcia The Concierge ... Carol Sigurdson The Man ... Gary Lamb Schwartzkopf ... Tony Burton After a lengthy delay caused by the '94 Northridge earthquake, Actors Alley finally opens the first of four theaters in its El Portal complex, most of which is still under reconstruction, with an impressive and highly satisfying production, "The Puppetmaster of Lodz." The drama concerns Samuel Finkelbaum (Joe Garcia), a Jewish man who escaped the Birkenau death camp just at war's end. Now, in Berlin in 1950, he still won't leave his boarding room for fear of capture. He does not believe the war is over, despite the attempts to convince him by the concierge (Carol Sigurdson) , who brings his food.

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