Puppet Golem Strikes Again

Czech Marionette Theater Returns With Touching Tale

Man of Clay : The story of the Golem is well known in Prague, where legend says it was created to protect the Jews from pogroms.
lee wexler/ images for innovation
Man of Clay : The story of the Golem is well known in Prague, where legend says it was created to protect the Jews from pogroms.

By Gwen Orel

Published December 07, 2011, issue of December 16, 2011.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

In the Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre’s production of “Golem,” the people are puppets (except for a ghost), and the man of clay is danced by a human being (Steven Ryan). And that’s how it should be, for although he doesn’t speak, Golem is a stand-in for man. He’s a creature who didn’t ask to be born, doesn’t understand his purpose and seeks love and receives punishment, both of which he accepts unquestioningly. Unlike Adam in the Garden, though, you couldn’t credit Golem with any kind of deceit — making him somewhat better, or at least more guileless, than the creature made by God.

The CAMT production that finished on December 4 — with original music by Frank London of The Klezmatics (and a seven-piece band), abstracted cage/building set pieces by Roman Hladík, and 20 marionettes of all sizes created by Jakub “Kuba” Krejcí, and moved by nine dancers/puppeteers — is hard to forget. For children it’s a romp, fun and different; for adults it’s all that, but tinged with sadness. What could be more Jewish?

The story of the Golem is less well known in America than in Prague, where Golem pictures rival those of Mozart and Kafka on souvenir mugs, chocolates and T-shirts. It helps to know the story, because there isn’t much dialogue — much of the show is danced (creative choreography by Naomi Goldberg Haas) — but you get enough from the narrator, Cantor (Ronny Wasserstrom), who sits at a potter’s wheel at the show’s opening and exhorts Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel to create the man of clay in the first place.

As the legend goes, in 16th century Prague, Loew, the chief rabbi, created a clay man, a “Golem,” solely to protect the Jewish ghetto from pogroms. After a while, the rabbi’s wife couldn’t resist using Golem once or twice to help with chores, which was outside of his extremely narrow ken. When asked to mop, he nearly drowned everyone. When asked to get fish for the Sabbath, he comically overdid it. Eventually, angered, he destroyed buildings and gentiles, and the rabbi had to take out the emet, or truth, placed in the Golem’s forehead, which had brought him to life. Legend has it that the Golem still lies in the attic of the Alt Neu Shul, in Prague, where the Nazis went to look for him.

The CAMT production was first presented at La MaMa Experimental Theater Club in New York City in 1997 (though with different cast members and choreography), after having been developed at several workshops, including one in Poland. It now reappears as part of La MaMa’s 50th-anniversary season. Since its debut it has also appeared at the Henson International Festival of Puppet Theatre, while “Golem Tants,” a wordless tune commissioned for this piece, was recorded by Itzhak Perlman and The Klezmatics for “Live in the Fiddler’s House.” CAMT, under the direction of Vít Hořejš, is not just a puppet company, but one of the most consistently exciting, truly forward-thinking theater troupes in town.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.