The 23-year-old, New York-based Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre has forged more than a few productions that center on Jewish topics — from “Golem” to “The Very Sad Story of Ethel & Julius” to its newest piece, “King Executioner.”
The latter, now playing through April 7 at Theater for the New City, explores how the Nazi-afflicted atrocities in World War II Poland inform the life of a local Christian boy who joins the resistance and goes mad.
The allegorical tale with pacifist underpinnings is inspired by the Tadeusz Nowak novel “When You Are King, You Will Be an Executioner.” Frank London of The Klezmatics composed the music, and the Yiddish dance master Steve Weintraub choreographed the piece.
“The reason Jewish stories interest me might have something to do with my daughter being Jewish, meaning her mother is Jewish,” said Vit Hořejš, the Czech-born founder and artistic director of the internationally acclaimed marionette theater. “I can’t help wondering what would happen if someone took offense at my daughter [because she is a Jew].”
“King Executioner” focuses on “a good man fighting for a good cause, but he goes crazy because he is killing people he has known all his life,” noted Hořejš, who talked with the Forward at a rehearsal space in the Dumbo section of Brooklyn shortly before a run-through of the play.
Set designer Theresa Linnihan was busy painting scenery stretched across the floor. Dozens of marionettes dangled from the ceiling; some were 2 feet tall, others several inches in height. All boast stunningly expressive faces — grimacing, grinning or leering — that are carved and or painted in a spray of colors. They are the true stars of the show, adding layers of interpretation as well as opportunities for enhanced interaction, Hořejš explained.