Deborah Karpel

September 17, 2018 | By | Add a Comment

In her show The Midwood Miracle, recently at Pangea, singer-writer-storyteller Deborah Karpel told the story of her estrangement from, and eventual reconciliation (however tentative) with, her late father, with whom she had a common familial arrangement: “not asking anything of each other” and barely speaking. In the kind of desperation that is fairly indigenous to New York City, Karpel needed an apartment and reluctantly moved into her father’s place when he went to live with his latest girlfriend.

The show opened with an intriguing song called “Locked Away”(Ted Kociolek, Karpel), in which she took stock of the earthly possessions left behind by her father in her “new” apartment. The song’s wit, intrigue, specificity and promise previewed a unique and personal journey through the past to approach an understanding of the present. Sadly the show did not really deliver on its opening, and that journey wandered too far astray from the intimate detail of the opening.

Karpel is a likeable performer with a pleasant voice and a comfortable ease on stage, but her approach was so low-key and her frame of reference so limited, that she, and it, rarely got beyond that initial likable impression. For someone who claims a history in improv and opera, her character work and writing, while mildly interesting, were weak, and her vocals rarely rose above pleasant. A second original number, “Balabusta” (Rachelle Garniez, Karpel), injected a much-needed dose of energy and fun.

As she worked her way through the minimal on-stage props, representing the contents of her apartment, the show centered more and more on Yiddish theatre and radio. It was here that the show made its biggest error. Karpel worked under the assumption, and at times the expectation, that the audience would understand the songs, get the references, and be familiar with the performers mentioned without translation and background. She was partially right in that her friends, fans, and family in the house cheered references and names throughout. Unfortunately, that left the rest of us in the audience feeling as though we had wandered into a party or a wedding at which we were definite outsiders and were left to wonder what exactly was going on. She made brief attempts here and there to set a Yiddish lyric in some kind of context, or to describe the performers who showed up in her memoir, but in most instances it was too little/too late.

Michael Lewis Smith offered workmanlike musical support on piano, and the singer passably accompanied herself on guitar on a few numbers. The direction by Aimee Todoroff, after that successful opening number, seemed to be as meandering as the show itself. The “miracle” of the title was, as far as I could tell, the reconciliation and mutual forgiveness and understanding of daughter and father before his passing. An indication of the funeral was the somber closing of the show, but having been deprived of a real and involving picture of that central relationship, we were left with no true climax or resolution. The words of Diana Morales’s song in A Chorus Line kept repeating in my head: “I felt nothing.” Perhaps with a lot of reworking, more original songs, and clearer set-ups for the Yiddish material, the kernel of interest generated at the beginning would be allowed to blossom and Deborah Karpel would have a more satisfying story to tell.

The Midwood Miracle
Pangea – May 1, July 20, September 7

Category: Reviews

About the Author ()

Gerry Geddes has directed many cabaret artists, among them Darius de Haas, Andre de Shields, and Helen Baldassare. He's created several musical revues, including the Bistro- and MAC Award-winning "Monday in the Dark with George," and he has produced two Bistro Award-winning CDs. His most recent theatre credit is directing "Hamlet" at the ArcLight Theatre with Australian actor/writer Matthew Newton. He's taught vocal performance at The New School, NYU, and London's Goldsmith College, and conducted private workshops and master classes. As a writer and critic, he covered New York's theatre and cabaret scene for thirty years for various local publications, and for nearly ten years, he co-wrote a national entertainment column. His lyrics have been sung by several cabaret artists, and he's currently at work on a memoir of his life in the city.

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