Presented by and at 78th Street Theatre Lab, 236 W. 78 St., NYC, Sept. 25-Oct. 12.
In "Notes to the Motherland," Paul Rajeckas joins a myriad of one-person shows. Pieces in which the author-performer plumbs his or her life are now so numerous that they constitute a separate genre. Moreover, recollections of the Nazi era also crowd the stages. In combining both, Rajeckas runs the risk of repeating the obvious, of being stale and redundant.
But, amazingly, something quite different transpires. Rajeckas' semi-autobiographical piece, written with George L. Chieffet, who directs, is altogether extraordinary.
For starters, this look at the Nazi era comes from a different perspective. Rajeckas' Catholic family emigrated from Lithuania to Queens to build a new life. He intertwines fantasy and memories, past and present, to create a former world, as well as the one that fashioned his life.
Rajeckas is unsparing in examination of that world. His father is portly, ignorant, bigoted; his mother is snobbish, arrogant, lost in dreams of the past. Only his grandmother, an unsung heroine who once rescued Jews, is the one to whom he can relate.
But it is not only the story that is unique. Rajeckas, having trained with the likes of Bill Irwin and Jonathan Wolken (co-founder of Pilobolus Dance Theater), puts on a near-acrobatic performance. Clown, mime, and actor all in one, he uses his plastic body and rubbery face to create an army of characters and incidents.
The scene in which he, as a teenager, is brought to his father's "club" and the cronies question his sexual prowess is devastating, as are the scenes in which his mother performs for the Nazis, and his grandmother feeds starving Jews.
The one criticism of this show is its arbitrary, confusing use of time, as one attempts to sort out Rajeckas' moves from past to present, reality to fantasy. "Motherland" would benefit from a clearer storyline. Nevertheless, every scene is a knockout.
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