stage director

“Mykwa” – settling accounts with anti-Semitism by Łukasz Drewniak in Dziennik

„Mykwa” directed by Monika Dobrowlańska in the Polish Theatre in Poznań. Review by Łukasz Drewniak in Dzienniku.

„Mykwa” in Poznań is like a spade blow in a head. Monika Dobrowlańska brings us to Jedwabne surroundings and looks at elderly people who conceal their mystery. Being old in Rowicki’s play does not mean being clever nor silent. Age conceals dirty thoughts and memories. Search a monster hiding behind grey hair and wrinkles.

The Polish Theatre is in the avant-garde when it comes to settling accounts with anti-Semitism. Let’s count: „Suitcase” [Walizka] by Sikorska Miszczuk, „Our class” [Nasza klasa] by Słobodzianka, “Nothing that is human” [Nic co ludzkie] , “The Jew” [Żyd] by Pałyga, “Adhesion” [Przylgnięcie] and now “Mykwa” by Rowicki.

For sure it is not the end of the list including the plays about the Polish – Jewish relationships. Maybe in a few years time the Polish playwriting will be divided into the plays written “before Gross” and “after Gross”. I do not reproach theaters nor actors for following trends. Some issues need to be discussed again and again. It must hurt since our skin gets thicker and thicker. „Mykwa” in Poznań is like a spade blow in a head. We did not deserve anything better.

Monika Dobrowlańska brings us again to Jedwabne surroundings to watch elderly people who live with their mystery. Being old in Rowicki’s play does not mean being clever nor silent. Infirmity conceals dirty thoughts and memories. Search a monster hidden behind grey hair and wrinkles. We have not had such a repugnant character as Jan Sapieżka in the Polish drama yet, he is an 80-year-old host – judging from his surname a descendant of nobility. And an average Polish individual, the resident of the hell of history his generation had to go trough. Sapieżka, a pre-war village Don Juan, was the Home Army soldier, survived German concentration camps, the authorities of the People’s Republic of Poland offered him imprisonment. Even now he licks his lips seeing his 15-year-old granddaughter, still slowly prepares himself for the death. And it is then that the ghosts visit him.

A young priest looks like Mendel, the Jew, killed by Sapieżka, his granddaughter appears to be young Sara, a Jewish girl raped and kept in a closet for weeks. Sapieżka took part in Jedwabne massacre, he pricked the Jews with a fork, cut their throats and poked out their eyes. Together with other Polish he drove the Jews into a barn and let them burn. “Who are you? – asks a voice at the beginning of the performance. – A small Polish boy! What is your sign? White Eagle! Atavistic killing of the strangers is the source of patriotism. Wojciech Kalwat plays Sapieżka like a provincial ruler, he gives him inner strength and stubbornness. We can hardly believe in his misdeeds. Evil can be mistakenly dignified with a make up put by time and oblivion.

Dobrowlańska breaks traditional Rowicki’s play using symbolic stage design: Sapieżka and the members of his family walk on a sloping scene made of sponge just like on a marshy field. Fragile apple tree sticks out of the ground hole. Pretending to be a biblical patriarch, Sapieżka ate only the evil fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. His brothers Wacław and Eugeniusz (Sylwester Woronecki i Zbigniew Waleryś) do not speak but yell, they are both like dogs. The grandson, a football fan (Łukasz Chrzuszcz) moves in a disease-like manner, a granddaughter (Anna Walkowiak) freezes in epileptic shivers. The hysteria of form, disability and over-expression of all characters except Sapieżka makes you think the penalty for his sins falls on the family.
Kalwata’s character, like a scoundrel who forgot about evil, makes anti-Semitic speeches till the end. He defends
against the death. And suddenly his whole disgraceful life of a 20 century totalitarianism victim is displayed and he finds himself in a hell. Sapiezka’s hell is a burning barn in Jedwabne, with screaming, burning people. Executioner turns into ash together with his victim. The ending is different from the one offered in the drama where Sapieżka walks up to heaven and takes a bath in „Mykwa” full of his former neighbours, even the heaven is Jewish. Dobrowlańska did not want to be so delicate.

I would give up some symbolic pictures and songs feeling no regret. I will definitely remember the metaphoric scene of rape made on Sara: A girl in a white shirt and an apple put into her mouth, so as she could not shout, skips rope in the rhythm of stroboscopic flashes. A spectator looks for a spade. Because Sapieżka’s grandsons keeps on talking about the same.

Mykwa Settling accounts with anti-Semitism”
Łukasz Drewniak
Dziennik online
04 April 2009

Comments are closed.