Marionettes and Puppetmasters Tell of Nazi Atrocities in Poland

Czech-American Company Uses Klezmer To Tell History

Puppet Master: Vit Hořejš, Czech-born founder and artistic director of the internationally acclaimed Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre, is producing “King Executioner,” based on a novel by Tadeusz Nowak.
Adele Bossard
Puppet Master: Vit Hořejš, Czech-born founder and artistic director of the internationally acclaimed Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre, is producing “King Executioner,” based on a novel by Tadeusz Nowak.

By Simi Horwitz

Published March 25, 2013, issue of March 29, 2013.
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Hořejš’s cell phone rang.

“Oh, hi, Frank,” he said. “No, it’s easy to get lost. Turn right and then walk down to the end of the hall and turn left.”

Within moments, a disheveled and exhausted London entered the room. He had just returned from a trip to Canada and, he remarked cheerfully, hadn’t slept in more than 24 hours.

A well-known musicologist and a major player in reviving klezmer music, London was eager to talk about his contribution to “King Executioner” and the challenges he has faced, not least “the frisson between the lightness of the music and the darkness of the whole piece, with its existential or nihilistic or absurdist elements,” he said. “But we’re not going for abstraction. The imagery of apples, horses and trees bring in the Polish folk songs and klezmer influences.”

“When the Jewish clarinet player enters with his band, you have to compose music that relates to the Jewish clarinet player. It’s folk material, though the themes and lyrics are modernistic at times. What is composed versus what is taken from a tradition is an amalgam.”

London, who described himself as a Hasidic egalitarian, said his cultural-religious background has no bearing on the way he approaches musical composition, including Jewish music. “The only way Judaism affects me is the way I practice Judaism,” he asserted.

“The characters are not all good or all bad,” said London. “History is thrust upon them, and they react in all sorts of ways. One story is not a negation of another story. One person may be suicidal, another becomes a great fighter.”

According to Weintraub, who weighed in with an email, “the play approaches the Second World War from a Polish perspective, which is kind of refreshing, since American Jews mostly see the war framed in a Holocaust context, and we don’t usually see the general existential human upheaval that the war brought.


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