Decoding the Tablecloth
nytheatre.com review by Joanne Joseph
August 15, 2004
Fringe festivals seem to encompass everything from thrown-together-overnight embryonic works all the way up to the sublime and totally polished, previously performed. Some few gems have come off fringes onto main stems, as we know.
Decoding the Tablecloth happily belongs in the second category. It is playing at the Paul Sharpe Contemporary Art Space, six floors up a little private elevator, on Walker Street.
Two dozen complex characters, deftly brought to life in sparing but deeply moving strokes, delineate five generations of a Polish family, some of whom the Nazis destroyed, others who escaped to Argentina, and then to America (Brooklyn, Westchester, New Jersey).
Playwright-performer Gabriela Kohen is well trained as an actor (American Conservatory Theatre, SITI) and as a person who can deftly call together a vast stretch of personal and extended family history. Commendable especially after so much documentation has come and gone concerning the Holocaust that to treat it freshly and honestly, without exploitation or sentimentality, is a gift indeed to us all.
Many issues unfold—parental violence, social cruelty, loyalty and caring, enduring love—there is comedy next to tears—all provided by one lithe body, voice, and face. Kohen is two elderly grandmothers, a macho tango dancing father, a timid school child, a snotty teenage girl, an air-guitar-playing teenage boy, herself at early and at mature stages—to name a few.
Direction by Connie Grappo, affecting music, careful use of props, excellent command of regional Englishes (New Jersey twist prominent), Spanish of various locales, Polish, Yiddish—all are to be praised for accuracy and poignancy.
The performance I saw (Saturday matinee) received a well-deserved standing ovation. It can be safely said that this is one of the goodies to be discovered at FringeNYC.