In Jewish folklore, a Golem is a man manifest of inanimate matter (clay) magically brought to life to serve its master. The word occurs in Psalm 139:16 as ???? (galmi; my golem), meaning “my light form”, “raw” material, referring to an unfinished human being before God’s eyes. A powerful, speechless creature, the Golem is often commanded to unsavory ends but may turn on its creator. In some tales, it demonstrates partly human feelings much as Frankenstein.
1927’s ironic Golem utilizes modern technology to its best advantage in warning us against the threats of modern technology. The story is inspired by Gustav Meyrink’s 1915 book, Der Golem, which is described as a “visionary dream” in which the figure is brought to life by ghetto need and suffering. This production reflects that all technology, all contemporary improvements are presented to us as perceived need and ostensible betterment while pervasive profit and personal advancement are downplayed. It conjectures that our helpful mechanisms may one day control us.
The Office: Will Close, Esme Appleton, Rose Robinson, Lillian Henley, Shamira Turner
“We live in a world in which people want for nothing. We are safe and secure…with leisure, pleasure and time on our hands. To understand how we live now, we need to see how things were.”
Uber-nerd Robert (Shamira Turner) lives in a house (projected) with his sister Annie (Esme Appleton) and his Grandmother (Lillian Henley.) Robert tinkers with inventions which inevitably fail (on screen, a large, mechanical bird bursts into flame when turned on) and works as a cog in The Binary Backup Department (imagine the office side of Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times) where he has a crush on the equally awkward Joy (Rose Robinson.) Annie is the lead singer in an insurrectionist punk band Annie and the Underdogs, additionally comprised of Robert, Julian (Will Close) and Penny (Lillian Henley.) She also campaigns to save things. We see the actress write with an actual brush as slogans appear on screen placards. Gran knits. The silhouette of a 1900s record player emits floating musical notes.
At Dinner: Esme Appleton, Shamira Turner, The Golem, Rose Robinson
Robert goes to visit his inventor friend Phil Sylocate (Will Close) whose most recent contrivance is personal Golems. These are large, archaic looking figures with dangling penises and minimal facial expression that respond to secret invocation (we see hieroglyphs fly from Phil’s mouth into the Golem.) “It does what its Master tells it to do.” Robert purchases one and takes it home. The Golem is at first quietly accommodating, holding an umbrella over Robert’s head, knocking out an aggressive street clown, doing his master’s office work in a quarter of the time.
Suddenly the clay form starts to speak (Ben Whitehead.) Robert believes his adjutant is just “undergoing slight changes.” The being learns a great deal from watching television while the others sleep. He at first sounds paternal, then like an aggressive friend, finally affecting and discomfiting the household, Robert’s appearance, and his employment.
At Home: Shamira Turner & Golem #1; Rose Robinson & Golem 2.0
At the same time a conglomerate, indicated by ominous, whispering, nasal voices, offers to back Phil. Everyone should be able to buy his marvelous creatures; their creator will become rich. A witty parentheses shows them manufactured. But wait, just when the populous grows accustomed, it’s time for Golem 2.0 whose vast abilities begin to control everything with so-called benign advice, convincing each master he is, in fact, in charge. Robert dismisses Joy, (a scene at a dating service is a riot), rises at his company, and becomes obtusely egocentric. “I’m a modern man. I have infinite opportunities.” The snowball rolls downhill – but it’s not over yet!
Actors’ eyes are outlined in black, faces are almost white, wigs splendidly exaggerated. Sarah Monroe’s Costumes are wonderfully inventive. Paul Barrett’s illustrated scenery is appealing, a kind of dark, decorative children’s book filled with social commentary. Interaction between live actors, actors on screen, claymation and ‘drawn’ animation is skillfully and humorously coordinated offering endless surprise. Overall aesthetic combines silent films (sometimes these flicker), especially those from Eastern Europe, with Bauhaus, and Dadaist images. Our protagonist resembles Woody Allen in Sleeper.
The Office Later: Rose Robinson, Shamira Turner, Lillian Henley
Lillian Henley’s music played onstage by herself and Will Close is extremely evocative; the occasional song fits perfectly. Laurence Owen’s Sound Design could use some fine tuning. There are portions where enunciation swallows verse.
The London based, independent theater company 1927 specializes in fusing live performance, including music and song, with animation. In the guise of a fable, the eloquent Suzanne Andrade has penned a sardonic morality tale ingeniously visualized by partner Paul Barritt, played by an enlightened cast of clever cartoons, human and otherwise. Every thespian holds his/her weight in skilled mime, dialogue, and movement. A marvelously unique and entertaining evening of theater.
Photos by Stephanie Berger
Opening: Will Close, Shamira Turner and The Golem
Lincoln Center Festival and 1927 presents
Written and Directed by Suzanne Andrade
Film Animation and Design- Paul Barritt
Associate Director and Design- Esme Appleton
Music- Lillian Henley
Dramaturgy- Ben Francombe
Gerald L. Lynch Theater at John Jay College-524 West 59th Street
Through July 31, 2016