Kaddish (FringeNYC)

by Ellen Wernecke

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday September 14, 2009

Kaddish (FringeNYC)

It is perhaps to state the obvious that Allen Ginsberg would have loved the Fringe Festival. Maybe not all of it - it's hard to picture him saving seats for Jack Kerouac at "George and Laura Bush Perform Our Favorite Sitcom Episodes," but the independent spirit and the celebration of Off-Off's well- and little-known spaces would have piqued his interest at least in part.

Donnie Mather's Kaddish, or the Key in the Window brings the Beat poet to luminous, intimate life in the performance of his prayerful history of and tribute to his mother.

Ginsberg wrote "Kaddish" right after his first breath of fame for the generational incantation "Howl," when he found out his mother Naomi - an immigrant to New York who taught and raised two sons before breakdowns and eventual institutionalization took their toll on her.

The resultant poem memorializes her with a heartbreaking overlay of the poet's struggles to support her in the last few difficult years of her life while keeping most of his life private, something Mather conveys masterfully in his notes-free presentation. Frankly, he's mesmerizing to watch, and director Kim Weild, sensing that a young, plaintive Ginsberg is more powerful than the bearded guru as which most remember him, keeps the focus on Mather at all times. Beat fans will sit still and wonder, but those unfamiliar with Ginsberg's work will find in its melodic strains the ring of the universal.

"Kaddish" was part of the 2009 New York International Fringe Festival. For more information, visit fringenyc.org

Ellen Wernecke's work has appeared in Publishers Weekly and The Onion A.V. Club, and she comments on books regularly for WEBR's "Talk of the Town with Parker Sunshine." A Wisconsin native, she now lives in New York City.