Walking in his Footsteps
nytheatre.com review by Julie Congress
August 17, 2007
It takes a lot of guts to get up on a stage, all by yourself, and talk to an audience of strangers about yourself and your family. Joan Fishman does just this in Walking in His Footsteps, an homage to her Holocaust-survivor grandfather. Though Fishman loved her "Grandpop" and spent much of her formative years around him, he was a mystery to her. He never talked of the war, and would go on secretive late night walks with his collie Abe. What did he think of on those journeys? Did he think of his family, the victims of the Nazis? When he looked at the young Joan, was he reminded of his long-ago murdered sisters (whose names, sorrowfully, he no longer remembered)?
Fishman muses about her late grandfather, guessing at his thoughts. She presents us with her family, taking on the voices of her mother, grandmother, and Grandpop. She sings in Yiddish and family photos are projected on a screen behind her. It is a highly personal, emotional journey for Fishman, and for 45 minutes she lets us into her thoughts, many of which she addresses directly to her Grandpop.
Julie Blattberg's photographic projections provide the only scenery for the play. They are soft, feminine, sepia-toned images of walking paths, Shabbat candles, and the braids of a little girl. Much more striking to me, however, were the few old photographs, particularly a haunting pre-war picture of a young Grandpop and his family. There is something about photographs from this period that fascinates me. The eyes are dark and piercing and stare directly, challengingly at you.
Fishman's eyes, on the other hand, are blue and sparkling—sometimes from happiness, sometimes from the tears welling up. Her strength as a performer is in her eyes, it is in them that you see how genuine she is, how much this means to her. Her physicality needs work, it is sometimes difficult to tell one character from another, and they seem to still be superficial portrayals—she nails the voice, vaguely suggests the body, but doesn't dig deeper into the character.
Walking in His Footsteps, subtly directed by Rita Esquenazi, is more of a glimpse into Fishman's personal struggle to understand her Grandpop than a theatrical piece. If the piece is not completely successful as a dramatic work, though, it is nevertheless interesting and sympathy-rousing, and I hope that Fishman can find some of the answers she's looking for.