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PULLING STRINGS

Through Nov. 24. The Boatyard Village Theater, 16100 Fairchild Drive, Clearwater. Call 536-8299 (Clearwater).The Puppetmaster of Lodz, the current production by Kestrel Inc. at The Boatyard Village, explores the aftershock of World War II and the Holocaust, focusing on a survivor whose existence blurs reality and fantasy.

Directed by Nan Colton, the play is set in a tiny apartment in Berlin in 1950 where a man lives in a make-believe world of puppets and marionettes. This is a world he can control and manipulate, a world that can't gas him or burn him.

Mort Lubitz gives a solid performance as the Jewish survivor, alternating between idle chatter with his creations and suppressed rage at his fate. It's a demanding role; Lubitz never leaves the stage in this two-hour production (except for intermission). He is consistent and, at times effective, but his range is limited.

Part of that can be attributed to the script; we're never sure just what is reality in this man's world and what is fantasy, what is genuine delusion and what is crafty illusion. These ambiguities, when they're being exploited, make The Puppetmaster of Lodz entertaining.

For two full scenes, the production watches the Jewish survivor in soliloquy with his puppets, talking of plays to come, rehearsing dialogue that reflects both future fantasy and past horror. He interacts always through the door to his flat, routinely rebuffing his landlady's entreaties, rejecting attempts by an array of characters to convince him the war has long been over and the Nazis defeated.

The cast is also effective for the most part, particularly the support offered by Virginia Burton Stringer as a nosy concierge and by Dick Poole as an old friend/survivor from the camps. Poole has great impact in the few minutes he's on stage.

The play's success rides on Lubitz and director Colton, and it's a risky venture. There are no laughs here, of course, and while the puppets themselves seem well-done, they are only props in the hands of an actor and a director. What these two do with the props and the script determines the fate of the production.

As always, Colton maintains control and pace. At the same time, Lubitz appears to capture about three-fourths of his character's potential. These factors, plus the fact that this is only the play's fourth production in the United States, make a visit to The Puppetmaster of Lodz worth the trip.

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