'Fabrik' a compelling holocaust tale with puppets 

Once you’ve seen Wakka Wakka Productions’ “Fabrik: The Legend of M. Rabinowitz,” it’s hard to imagine this particular story (now onstage at The Jewish Theatre) presented any other way than via hand-and-rod puppets and towering, masked humans.

The superb skills of the black-suited and-hatted trio of performer/puppeteers (Peter Russo, Kirjan Waage and Gwendolyn Warnock) — who occasionally don masks to embody malevolent characters, to macabre effect — make the true holocaust tale resonate.

Polish Jew Morris Rabinowitz emigrated to Norway at the turn of the century, where he eventually operated a successful clothing factory.

In Wakka’s retelling, the story is loosely structured as a series of illustrated rules for the businessman: how to treat your employees, how to treat your customers and so on.

Rabinowitz, a dark-haired, mustachioed puppet in a little white suit, is no angel — he has cheated on his whiny, fat wife, who’s all red hair and lipstick — but he’s a sympathetic character: a loving father, an ethical merchant, boss and citizen, a good man.

As an outsider, the only Jew in town, he’s accepted by many (an assortment of light-haired Scandinavian types), looked upon suspiciously by some.

The tale follows him (with, at one point, a confusingly abrupt leap through time, the production’s only misstep) through years of his happy and productive Norwegian life, until at last he can read the swastikas on the wall. No happy ending here — just an infinitely touching one.

The New York-based Wakka ensemble — Waage, Warnock and Gabrielle Brechner— wrote, directed and produced the show, inspired by both Nordic and Yiddish folktales and European cabaret.

They’ve written their own music featuring both folksy and klezmer melodies and a few charming songs (as well as an original score by Lars Petter Hagen and Trond Olav Reinholdtsen) and assembled an impressive array of sound effects, an evocative lighting design, even a set miniature (by Stein Hanshuu).

The show has been touring for a while; this is its second run at The Jewish Theatre, an intimate setting perfect for this carefully calibrated, low-tech endeavor.

The endearing puppets include not only Rabinowitz and family but also his shy assistant, his chauffeur and various townsfolk.

When the puppeteers appear as an anti-Semitic cartoon Jew, a Nazi and more, the dynamic between puppets and people is visually, viscerally stunning.

Several scenes in particular, too, stand out: an exquisite dream sequence in which Rabinowitz flies above the city and swims through the ocean; Rabinowitz’s tiny daughter practicing her ballet lesson; the timid shop assistant donning a lion costume for a promotional scheme and letting loose with a Cowardly-Lion series of ferocious roars.

Finally, it’s simple and devastating for a Gestapo officer to be represented by nothing but a pair of big black boots.


Fabrik: The Legend of M. Rabinowitz

Presented by The Jewish Theatre

Where: 470 Florida St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays; closes Feb. 28
Tickets: $15 to $45
Contact: (415) 292-1233, www.tjt-sf.org 

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Staff Report

Staff Report

A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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