Who is Imre Kertesz? Kaddish at Charlestown Working Theatre (4 Stars)
*Produced and directed by Barbara Lanciers, featuring Jake Goodman. Kaddish ran at Charlestown Working Theater, April 10-11, 2015.*
As I sat in the lobby of the Charlestown Working Theater on Saturday night I was impressed with the sense of community among my fellow patrons. I had chosen not to do any research before seeing the show, wanting the work to be able to speak for itself, so I was excited to see what was in store beyond the double doors to the theatre. The audience was asked to stay in the lobby until the start of the show, which added to the camaraderie and mystique, of the evening.
When the doors opened we were led through the space to the far corner, where a mere 30 seats were closely arranged around a ten foot square of dirt. Hanging over the dirt patch were a collection of bare bulbs, giving the space a close, almost too small, feel. On each chair sat a single rock. There was no time to contemplate the purpose of our rocks because sitting in the dirt was the show’s single performer, Jake Goodman.
Throughout the next hour, Goodman took us through an emotional journey that was both heavy and comical. The show is incredibly wordy, based on the novel, *Kaddish for an Unborn Child*, by Hungary’s only Nobel Prize winner for literature, Imre Kertesz. There were moments, especially early on, where I wasn’t sure that the text wasn’t better suited for the page. However, as the character on stage unfolds before us I am drawn into Kertesz’s beautiful use of language.
Goodman is a powerful storyteller and worked through a wide array of emotional intricacies with a perfect balance of grace and chaos. Sections of the story are shared in fits and starts through direct conversation with the audience, overheard one sided conversations with the character’s unborn child and re-lived, re-played and re-hashed moments with the character’s now ex-wife. With every thread that gets pulled more of the story is revealed and more questions are left to be answered.
As the lights slowly fade into twinkling nothings over Goodman’s attempted repetition of what I assume is a Jewish prayer, I realized I’d been tightly gripping the stone in my hand for the last hour. While audience members helped themselves to refreshments I sat, fingering the rock in my hand, contemplating what I’d just seen. There were so many things I enjoyed – it was incredibly visually compelling, Goodman’s performance was wonderful – yet I had so many questions as well: Was I supposed to understand where he was going or where he’d come from? If not, why give him a suitcase, which has so many specific connotations?
As the audience settled back in their seats (side note: HUGE congratulations to the work and the theatre – almost every audience member stayed for the Q&A) Goodman and the show’s director, Barbara Lanciers, pulled up chairs in the dirt patch and told stories of the creation of the work. Listening to them talk about meeting Kertesz and his wife, the process of building from the text and the importance of Kertesz’s work within Hungary, many of the unfinished questions I’d been contemplating either found answers, or became more irrelevant. However, the more they spoke, the more I realized the tremendous import they placed on Kertesz in the work. Having no familiarity with the original book or (sadly) much knowledge about the history or current political climate in Hungary, I felt like I was missing the point. Perhaps I am not the audience this work was meant for? Did the audience members who came in with knowledge of these things have better insight into what had happened on the stage than I did?
Being the ever curious person that I am, I intend to find *Kaddish for an Unborn Child*, and hopefully other novels by Kertesz and add them to my reading list. I’ve already begun looking into life in Hungary. So, if the goal was to create interest in Kertesz’s work, they did succeed with me. I just hope the rest of their audiences are filled with the same amount of curiosity and appreciation, and that they aren’t turned off by feeling uneducated about the work’s history. That being said, I did enjoy Kaddish and find myself wishing I could sit down for coffee with Goodman and Lanciers to learn more about their journey of discovering just who is Imre Kertesz?