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Allen Ginsberg's 'Kaddish' Gets the One-Man Show Treatment

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Donnie Mather plays the lead in the one-man show 'Kaddish (or The Key in the Window).' Donnie Mather plays the lead in the one-man show "Kaddish (or The Key in the Window)." (Photo by Nicholas Vaughan)

Fifty years ago, the beat poet Allen Ginsberg published "Kaddish." The 1961 poem is about Ginsberg coming of age in Paterson, New Jersey and his troubled relationship with his mentally ill mother.

A new theater group called The Adaptations Project has adapted the poem for the stage. "Kaddish (or The Key in the Window)" is a multimedia one-man show that opens at the 4th Street Theatre on Thursday night.

Ginsberg, who is best known for his 1956 poem "Howl," died in 1997.

"My hope is that he would be pleased with what we are attempting, feel honored, see/hear/feel our connection to his words, his story and how he has inspired us, and be OK with us making it our own," said the director of "Kaddish (or The Key in the Window)," Kim Weild.

The Ginsberg work is the first show by The Adaptations Project, a New York City collective of artists founded by Donnie Mather to adapt new plays from existing material. The collective includes Weild, C. Andrew Bauer, Brian H. Scott, Nicholas Vaughan, Terese Wadden and Darron L. West.

Mather wrote "Kaddish (or The Key in the Window)" from the first two sections of "Kaddish" — the Proem and the Narrative. He is also the sole actor in the play.

"The poem is about memory, it's about loss and mourning. It's a search for grace," Mather said. "Our play is a dream play and his mother Naomi is manifested in a number of ghostly ways in our story: through the music, video, lights and sound, as well as voice-over and possession."

Naomi Ginsberg, a Russian immigrant who moved to Newark, New Jersey, before Allen was born, was a communist and nudist who spent much of her life in and out of mental hospitals, according to the Allen Ginsberg Estate.

Allen and his brother became their mother's legal guardian after their parents divorced. As such, Allen signed off on a letter recommending his mother receive a frontal lobotomy in 1947. In 1956, she died from a brain hemorrhage at Greystone State Mental Hospital. Soon after her death, he wrote "Kaddish," which takes its name from a Jewish prayer of mourning.

Robert Kalfin directed the first adaptation of "Kaddish" at the Chelsea Theater in Brooklyn in 1972, according to the Allen Ginsberg Estate. Most recently, Weild directed a version of the play that was staged at the 2009 NY International Fringe Festival.

"Kaddish (or The Key in the Window)" runs at the 4th Street Theatre through Oct. 9.

Below is a slideshow of the beat poet, who was born in Newark, grew up in Paterson and spent much of his time in Manhattan, with family and friends.

Ginsberg with his mother Naomi (left) and his father, Louis (right) at the World's Fair in 1940.
Courtesy of the Allen Ginsberg Estate
Ginsberg with his mother Naomi (left) and his father, Louis (right) at the World's Fair in 1940.
The poet with his mom in the late 1930s after she returned from a long stay at the hospital.
Courtesy of the Allen Ginsberg Estate
The poet with his mom in the late 1930s after she returned from a long stay at the hospital.
Ginsberg in the fall of 1953 on the roof of E. 7th St. in Manhattan.
© Allen Ginsberg Estate Licensing via Corbis.
Ginsberg in the fall of 1953 on the roof of E. 7th St. in Manhattan.
Photographer and fillmamker Robert Frank with Ginsberg. This photo was taken by Ai Weiwei in New York City in 1989.
Courtesy of Three Shadows Photography Art Centre and Chambers Fine Art
Photographer and fillmamker Robert Frank with Ginsberg. This photo was taken by Ai Weiwei in New York City in 1989.

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