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

“Mykwa” in the Polish Theatre, Washing the dirt of anti-Semitism off

„Mykwa” directed by Monika Dobrowlańska, the Polish Theatre in Poznań, presented at the 2nd European Theatre Encounters „Close Strangers” in Poznań. Review by Michał Danielewski, Gazeta Wyborcza, Poznań

„Mykwa” keeps you on the edge of your seat. It is a brilliant spectacle, even though it washes the dirt of anti-Semitism and the hatred towards the Strangers off the audience too easily. What a pity.

The Drama by Piotr Rowecki, directed by Monika Dobrowlańska places us in the very middle of a horrible crime whirl committed by the Polish against their Jewish neighbours. Though the performance tells us a well-known story, it virtuously deletes from us our whole knowledge about Jedwabne massacre during the performance time, it makes us confront the truth again.

We observe Jan Sapieżka’s inner struggle (brilliant Wojciech Kalwat) who, shortly before the death, cannot free himself from the demons of the past. He seeks help blaming history for his crime, justifying his prejudice and hatred by means anti-Semitism stereotypes. Finally, under the influence of Mendel, the appearing Jew, Jan Sapieżka undergoes a change – he realizes that this shed blood “gets deeply into the memory” and cannot be invalidated.

When Sapieżka confesses his sins and begs for absolution, he is killed by his grandson Krzyś (Łukasz Chrzuszcz), a member of neo-fascist organization. It is one of the best scenes in the spectacle: a warning against the non-reflective Polish national identity fed on hatred and repetitive sentimentalism – quoting Dubravka Ugresic’s essay – taking on the same ominous shape irrespective of how we interpret it: from past or present perspective; Polish national identity which reacts with fear and hostility on any attempts to change it. What problem do Rowicki’s drama and Dobrowlańska’s spectacle pose? In Judaism Mykwa means a bath with running water used for gaining ritual purity. Well, „Mykwa” washes the anti-Semitism dirt and hatred to the strangers off a spectator too easily.
The blood, we already mentioned, getting into memory refers to a famous essay by Jan Błoński entitled “Poor Polish are looking at the Ghetto”. In this context, the memory is Cain’s field, the field of a murderer soaked with the blood of victims – as Błoński writes – “the blood is soaking into us, therefore we have to clear ourselves, to watch ourselves in the truth.” Witold Gombrowicz’ perfectly supplements such attitude in the fragments of his „Journals” “(…) four million murdered Jews are like the Himalayas. I would ban this typical Polish gullibility which makes you believe in discovering things only up in the summits. There is nothing there after you climb the summit: snow, ice and rocks – however you can see a lot in your own garden.”

Even though Monika Dobrowlańska tries to follow Błoński’s and Gombrowicz’s advice, even though she cleans Cain’s field and directs her look onto the garden instead of mountain summits, Cain’s field is still considerably limited and it is your neighbour’s garden rather than yours. A bourgeois „decent” spectator will leave the theatre with a feeling that the anti-Semitism problem is somewhere else. Because in „Mykwa” anti-Semitism, hatred and stupidity are attributed merely to a mob.

Old Sapieżka is a boor, a bandit, a rapist. His fascist grandson is a blockhead addicted to amphetamine, shouting national slogans with a dull look. The Poznań audience associates such people with the darkest streets of Jeżyce and Wilda districts, with a social margin which can be easily blamed, thus helping us hiding our prejudice and indifference. It is a risky comparison, still worth mentioning that in a city where lots of decent inhabitants shrugged shoulders watching the Equality March be brutally suppressed, such escape against responsibility is particularly visible.

One scene is especially breathtaking: the witnesses, sitting in the audience, stand up, they are people “just like us” typical “average citizens”; they tell us the details of crime and murder in a non-passionate manner as they do not feel any guilt. What a pity this plot was not developed, since “Mykwa” could have become an excellent performance”

The review of “Mykwa” in the Polish Theatre”
Michał Danielewski
Gazeta Wyborcza Poznań no. 74

Translation: Irena Grzegorczyk

Mykwa does not purify… , Stefan Drajewski in Głos Wielkopolski

„Mykwa” directed by Monika Dobrowlañska, the Polish Theatre in Poznañ, presented at the 2nd European Theatre Encounters „Close Strangers” in Poznañ. Review by Stefan Drajewski in Polska Głos Wielkopolski.

We will rub salt into Polish – Jewish wounds for a very long time. The Drama by Piotr Rowicki whose premiere was shown in the Polish Theatre during Close Strangers Festival serves as an evidence of the previous sentence. We know so little about one another, one could say. What makes it worse, we cannot draw any conclusions from history.

Rowicki does not tell about events which happened in Jadwabne once more time. The story is interesting for him as it displays the drama of an individual. On the stage the group murder committed by the Polish against the Jewish comes back in reminiscences during Jan Sapieżka’s confession made before his family, a priest, Mendel’s ghost. Being eaten by a terminal disease he attempts to settle accounts. The whole world considers him to be a hero: the Home Army soldier, a prisoner of concentration and internment camp, still not many know he is also a rapist who raped a young Jewish girl and then was active in murdering the Jews. Wojciech Kalwat acting this role is bitter and repugnant, he arouses pity and admiration. Being excited and attentive he removes subsequent masks from his face. Wojciech Kalwat’s Sapieżka is not a crude boor acting on a base impulse.

In any situation his choices were supported by ideology and deep conviction about being right in his decisions. The truth, showing that these decisions were not always the right ones, comes out when his grandson requires his money (Łukasz Chrzuszcz). He saw in his grandson himself – a young provincial boy captivated by nationalistic ideas. For a contemporary spectator it can be horrible to learn that nothing has changed in our Polish mentality for 60 years. Contemporary young nationalists do not differ in any way from young Sapieżka living in the pre-war years.

„Mykwa” is a family drama. Lots of families keep mysterious stories in their wardrobes and cupboards. They come across these stories accidentally, usually when it is too late. In this case Jan Sapieżka managed to reveal his dark mystery. Only his older brother and Mendel knew how much he was involved in burning the Jewish down, his wife lived in the sate of oblivion. Małgorzata Peczyńska, starring the wife, having heard this story became speechless just like Loath’s wife. No wonder. She has been living together with a murderer for 60 years. The younger brother accepts the sad truth, but he does not care about it. The young pries cannot cope with it – it does not match his outlook.

Monika Dobrowlańska’s performance makes an impression, shatters a spectator’s feeling of relax and calm after sitting a comfortable armchair. The director together with Petra Korink (stage and costume designer) presented a world built on a marshy ground. The ground sags under our heroes’ feet all the time, they sink deep into it and paddle further. Their world is unstable and unsure just like the Polish – Jewish relationships. It is difficult for them to find their way. The actors were brilliant creating the characters. Apart from Wojciech Kalwat, Małgorzata Peczyńska acted Jan’s wife in a wonderful manner, she minimalised any expression. She experiences her drama in concentration. Jakub Papuga acted two characters: Mendel and the priest. It is ages since I last saw such incredibly stereotypical people acted in such a great non-stereotypical manner.

When the curtain fell down, there was a deep silence. Only after a short while did the applause start. Then I thought: „maybe the applause is unnecessary, maybe we should leave the theatre in silence”. It turned out once again that „Mykwa” does not purify. Some residue remained.
Mykwa does not purify…

Stefan Drajewski
Polska Głos Wielkopolski no 71/25.03.

What shall be done with the evil? Andrzej Górny about Mykwa

Having read Jan Tomasz Gross’ book and heard discussions about Polish anti-Semitism which went through the media during last years, we know a lot about Jedwabne massacre. Still, the subject of overlapping German and Russian occupation and the counteracting forces supporting Polish – Jewish communities, which get activated during occupation, has not been presented at length yet. You can also see it in the performance where soldiers of both armies appear as if deus ex machine, a flashing interjection which does not bring anything new to the play. Well it does not have to… Articles on history and politics make reconnaissance in history, theatre stage shows something different. The articles offer insight into psychosocial conditions, into the impact of stereotypes etc. – the theatre takes a deep look into a human being who struggles with his past by himself. To make it clear, the director Monika Dobrowlańska, does not give up the sharp blade of historical or political elements, referring the spectacle to the today’s reality.

Let’s examine what makes the performance so prestigious – considering such a difficult main plot. Firstly, the insight into the man – the murderer. We can observe how the crime is experienced by the man who committed it. Such approach is extraordinary since we have to find out about a crime and a victim through the criminal who struggling with himself recalls his misdeed shortly before the death. When his time has come and he wants to know who he is, at any cost. How the most important deals were made. Jan Sapiezka (Wojciech Kalwata’s great role) defends himself as if in a good cause. His family, wife (Małgorzata Peczyńska) brothers (Sylwester Woroniecki and Zbigniew Waleryś), who should feel guilty of co-participation in the crime try to wave the common past away. Sapieżka is the only one who accepts challenge. He does not neglect anything. Being ruthlessly open he wants to get through the things which cannot be deleted from his life. He converses with his past in many different ways. The dialogue is fierce, he sometimes denies then again comes back to things that torture him. He stands or lies constantly in the very middle of the vast space of the stage. In the background behind his bed there is a lonely, slightly bushy tree. What a painful thorn, Sapieżka cannot change anything in his bitter helpless existence. He must be the man he is as long as he lives. How could he purify himself? Where?
When he makes his dialogues we are less and less sure if he converses with himself or with others – or maybe with anything which happens to be around, closer or farther. He converses even with this undisturbed space freed by Petra Korink from any architectural limitations of a theatre building. This space is so intense in its presence that it is sensed as something real and concrete, simultaneously not having the end – just like the world.

We can still hear Sapieżka talking to the people around. Firstly, the confession before a priest (Jakub Papuga) which ends with a failure because their relationship turned into a game played by the people with exact goals and attitudes. A meeting with Mendel, the Jew who expected Sapiażka to admit his guilt. However, the fact that his guilt is so obvious limits the chance to initiate a close contact. Sapieżka defends himself mentioning his nationalistic upbringing in the pre-war times. He recalls his fights in the Home Army, he also was a victim of Auschwitz camp. But the absolute of life, which he deprived Sara of by raping her, is unlimited. There is no escape. His struggle for his soul gets broken against unyielding silence of unattainable, unlimited space, whom he has to surrender together with his faith and saint names, condemning himself, not finding any excuse. The only thing he is granted, as if in a reply, is the appearance of Sara whom he can see for a while during her journey into the infinity. In this dimly lit scenic moment we can find unexpected tenderness and humbleness. Is this moment to be a proper one for purifying and cleansing, just like in mykwa? The logic of Sapieżka’s experiences crosses – since it has to cross sooner or later – with the logic of life. Krzyś (Łukasz Chrzuszcz) takes advantage of this moment of weakness and carelessness. He kills Sapieżka and robs his money which he had been waiting for since ages. Still, the grandson does not know he kills a different the man than Sapieżka used to be when Krzyś plotted to steal the money for the first time – when he was convinced of the fact that the damned grandfather’s past gives him the right to take the money.
The audience can have an impression about linking the logic of affection with the logic of life to such an extent that life can “listen” to Sapieżka’s affection and executes the sentence, Sapieżka passed on himself, with his own grandson’s hands. A short, final scene, a kind of epilogue, deals with Krzyś who does his best to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps – the anti-Semite. I am truly convinced it is a bud for a new drama to be written. Let us hope it will not be a tragedy any more. Memento in the form of Jan Sapieżka’s fate in Mykwa is so powerful and so abundant it suffices for anything else.

Behind the curtain of amnesia, Agnieszka Misiewicz about Mykwa in Teatralia Poznań

Owing to the publication of Jan Tomasz Gross’ Neighbours a dramatic matter came out. A Pole killed his neighbour, a Polish Jew. Does not matter who gave an order. Murder is murder, there is no excuse. However there are still people who justify values and behaviours from those cruel times finding excuses for their actions.

Jan Sapieżka, the main character of Piotr Rowicki’s “Mykwa”, belongs to those people. He lies on his deathbed and would like to die having clean conscience but the ghosts of his past make it difficult. Initially, one can take pity on this dying elderly man. He fought against the occupying forces, fought for a free country, he had to spend a few years imprisoned. But it is a partial truth. We learn the darker side later since Sapieżka deletes it from his awareness for a longer time. He took part in the Holocaust. Well, he wanted to survive. What tracks will his life leave? His family which for the sake of comfort lets the curtain of amnesia fall down. There will be a grandson – a fascist and his daughter living in the lap of consumption. Or maybe there will be a raped girl, murdered with his hands? They are gone but the traumatic experience remain. It will not gone despite the character’s death. The dirt of such misdeeds will not be purified in any mykwa…

Monika Dobrowlańska turned the drama into the language of the theatre. She displays how things happening around Sapieżka influence his conscience. He performance has as if two plains with a border being blurred between them. On stage we can see action happening here and now as well as retrospection from the past. The priest is deceitfully similar to once murdered Jew, a granddaughter is a spitting image of Sara hurt so much by the main character.

Perta Korink’s stage design is of great importance here. The stage inclined in the audience direction recalls us the ground soaked with the once shed blood. In the middle an apple tree whose fruit got stuck in Sara’s mouth, a girl raped in a brutal manner. Beneath Sapieżka lying on a comfortable bed as if blended into his small world. Each element seems to remember those cruel times. The witness also remember the cruelty, we suddenly notice them sitting in the first row. They turn towards the audience telling about inhumane events they saw. They saw the cruelty, still they seem to be next to the whole drama. Sapieżka is the only one who participated directly in the massacre, but he does not want to remember.

He has a long and painful way to go through – from amnesia and a total denial of guilt through an attempt to excuse himself and finally self-awareness of being a murderer. Wojciech Kalwat presented this process brilliantly, presenting the personality of the main character – full of hostility and aggression. Krzyś is the heir of the worst grandfather’s features. He hates the Jews, does not have anything against hurting other people even the closest ones. Łukasz Chrzuszcz built a distinct character endowed with exaggerated movements, his fanatic speeches and angry gestures are annoying and repulsive.

The events in Jedwabne are blurred even today, this shameful chapter of history does not belong to easy subjects. The same refers to this spectacle. The Polish Theatre managed to present the historic plot in an interesting and tactful manner. Mykwa brings clear and heart-braking message – maybe it is a result of the fact it does not eulogize tragedy of hundred anonymous victims. It presents the drama in a different way – it shows an individual with blooded hands. A compatriot – an executioner … Nobody can leave this spectacle having pleasant thoughts in mind.

Agnieszka Misiewicz
Teatralia Poznań
26 May 2009

Looking for the truth which hurts, Witold Kobyłka about Mykwa in Dziennik Teatralny Poznań

Everybody needs myths which are simplified concepts providing them with the sense of belonging. Imperial nations invent myths to justify their ruling over the others, the conquered ones need myths to justify their failure and awake to the will of survival. Following “Mykwa” example we see Polish myths, which do not comply with historic facts, be knocked down in the Polish Theatre.

The Jewish issue in historiography is well-known to anybody. Still, some facts are sometimes concealed. Anti-Semitism in Polish history was always a shameful matter, a kind of taboo. The Polish Theatre during the premiere of its latest play „Mykwa” was not only the theatre but also a tool offering its audience historic knowledge we had not learnt at any school. In a moving and distinct manner we learn the history of Jedwabne, a Polish town, where Polish society carried out massacre murdering the Jewish. Today visitors to Jedwabne can read an inscription chiselled on a stone: “The place of The Jewish’ torment. The Gestapo and Hitler Military Police burned to death 1600 people on 10 July 1941.” Were they really the Gestapo and Hitler Military Police?

The performance helps us regaining the forgotten and disgraceful Polish past by telling it anew. The past we would like not to have. The story is told from today’s perspective. It is told by The Home Army soldier and zealous patriot – Jan Sapieżka (Wojciech Kalwat). He is a man who has already experienced everything and nothing else but the death is left. However, shortly before the death it turns out that one more thing must be solved – settling accounts with his own past. Jan’s family is unaware of his past – and as the director Monika Dobrowolska said: „It is not a play about Jedwabne massacre but also about a family which happened to live together with a murderer”. Jan’s family is crude and narrow-minded. It consists of: a brutal fascist and drug addict grandson Krzyś, a fun-loving granddaughter Agnieszka, two brothers: Wacław and Eugeniusz, his wife Jadwiga who does not love Jan any more but lives with him due to the force of habit. Basic value of “Mykwa” are historic facts. Black sheet is revealed and shows us what we have been ashamed of for many years. Distinct, contemporary language presents cruelty done by the Polish on the Jewish – murders, rapes, anti-Semitic insults. Everything was exhibited both in a scary and moving way on the Polish Theatre stage. Jan says: some people were born to cure, some others to kill. Unfortunately, the play attributes this second variant to a part of Polish society, referring, for example, to burning down a barn full of a hundred of Jews in Jedwabne. Furthermore, it is proved that the Polish were brought up in the spirit of nationalism. Leaving aside „Mykwa” content, it is worth listening to the request for pardon of the sentenced person for committing crime against the Jews: „I was always educated in one direction only, nationalism, therefore during the German occupation I dealt only with matters related to my nation and my country. Whenever there was a need to sacrifice myself for my country, I never hesitated.”

Stage design is an unprecedented innovation. Stage ground and ceiling are directed diagonally towards each other which gives an impression of endless space. The actors walking deep into the scene looked like having travelled long distance. Additionally, there was an impressive play of music and lights with perfectly matched characters’ monologues spoken in a moving manner, with Wojciech Kalwat starring Jan whose monologue was an absolute number one. He acted brilliantly showing excitement, outburst of emotions or calming down.

The play by a young playwright Piotr Rowicki, qualified to the final of “Metaphor of Reality” contest, can pride itself on a great interpretation which we owe Monika Dobrowlańska and the actors of the Polish Theatre. They acted without any hesitation despite such a delicate subject. They coped with the burden of accusations included in „Mykwa”. At this point I would mention Wojciech Kalwat again since he deserves any possible awards for this role. Only few actors would be capable of acting a murderer and anti-Semite who experiences a sudden need of confession before the death. A moment when his pride of his name turns into disgrace. The play is crucial and obligatory for anybody, not only for those interested in the theatre but for any Polish people. Passing by the Polish Theatre in Poznań I would like to see mass school trips with the young people who do not have a real picture of Poland, who consider Poland a victim of wrong neighbours. Any school child knows a poem heard at the beginning of the spectacle. “Who are you? – A small Polish boy. (…) – What land is this? – My country. – How was it regained? – with blood and a scar.” I am wondering if any Polish children reciting this poem are aware of whose blood was also sacrificed to regain the country?

I will quote Jan Błoński who in his article “Poor Polish are looking at the Ghetto” published in „Tygodnik Powszechny” settles accounts with Polish anti-Semitism: “Did you help killing?” Did you look at the death of the Jews calmly? We have to be honest, to face the question of co-responsibility. It cannot be concealed: it is the most painful issue we have to face. I think there is an urgent need to consider it.” The play „Mykwa” is just considering it.

Witold Kobyłka
Dziennik Teatralny Poznań
30 March 2009

Is that exactly Poland?

Michalina Woskowicz – “Mykwa” presented on Malta Festival

As a part of this year Malta Festival, Municipal Theatre of Poznań presented “Mykwa” – Piotr Rowicki’s drama directed by Monika Dobrowlańska. The spectacle debut took place in March during the second European Theatre Encounters called “Close Strangers”.

Mykwa is a spectacle whose message can be significant in the context of current historical manipulations connected with the ceremony commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Second World War or oncoming 20th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall.  It reveals one of the most painful historical truths, deleted from human consciousness mainly due to political reasons. Failure to admit to the disgraceful past of many countries occurs with the frequency typical to the law of nature.  This time, the Polish, who murdered their neighbours in the Jedwabne massacre appear at the bar of justice. It would be good if the politicians wanted to make up for their missed history classes by visiting the artists acting “Mykwa” on stage of the Municipal Theatre. 

Mykwa is the symbol of cleansing from sins, and consequently from past. It becomes the space of settling accounts and doing justice to past so as everyone could continue their lives looking ahead.

The spectacle producers did not intend to reopen old wounds, as some people would wish to. The director managed to show the absolute dimension of memory.  Truth does not save any conscience, it seems to be timeless, unchangeable and the only one.  The history has its own memory, has an unfalsified fact, but only few people approach to the history, the majority writes their own histories. Using minimalistic pictures the director managed to show the inevitability of truth which will settle accounts even with the most irredeemable liar, the truth which will find a liar even a quarter before his death to tell him what the real story was like, what we were like, what we are like.  Wojciech Kalwat created a grievous role. We watch Jan Sapieżka on his death bed engrossed in his memory nightmares completely helpless and lonely, as if on the Final Judgement Day.  His conscience plays the chief justice; his conscience is him whereas he is the conscience.  All the greater his torture, existential pain, his self-humiliating groveling and excusing himself which resemble dog’s whimpering.

 Stage design is made of sponge stretched up to horizon. The sponge makes it difficult to walk, it represents stuffy, dark atmosphere through which hidden, bloody past is leaking.   Masterpiece direction and stage designed is achieved by ascetic aesthetic.  Modest stage design underlines the spiritual poverty of main characters belonging to the world coming from a nightmare.  Krzyś, old Sapieżka’s  beloved  grandson, is such a spiritually impoverished character. Łukasz Chruszcz created a role of a typical skinhead and junkie, a hooligan with rotten brain who will not hesitate to murder his own grandfather to get a penny.  Describing his stage sister as a  bird-brained, dull girl is definitely not enough. It is merely old Sapieżka’s wife, played brilliantly by Małgorzata Peczyńska, who can evoke some positive feelings.  Their world is unstable, unsure, cold and marshy just like the sponge the characters walk on.

Mykwa shows that the history is ever-lasting, that there are thousand places like Jedwabne, that rape, crime, theft and stupidity still exist in the modern world.  It does not make sense to interpret history to prove that one’s nation was a martyr, because small “Jedwabnes” happen in the backyard or on bus stops  where nationalists, soaked with patriotism, batter foreigners being convinced that such act of vandalism are required to protect the Polish identity. The feelings of xenophobia, selfishness, insensitivity, which contributed to the Jedwabne massacre, are in the Polish, Russians, Germans. These feelings will always be ready to revive and start writing the pages of history.  Old generation’s sins are repeated by the younger generations, it is only the political and social scene which changes.  One, totally unexpected scene causes an electrifying effect. The audience is an asylum, it lets a spectator remain aloof  while being a witness of the painful truth shown on stage.  Still, it is in the audience where the witnesses of the Jedwabne massacre sit, they stand up and dispassionately tell what they saw.

The purpose is not to make us feel bad nor confirm our stereotype of an evil Polish, the purpose it to open our eyes, to be attentive to injustice and express disagreement against  it. Can one spectacle, even the most outstanding one, change anything if people will not want to? Do nationalists, boobs and boors living in old blocks of flats  visit the theatre? The play is not guilty, it is neither good nor bad. It is simply outstanding. The history is written by people, the theatre invents stories. Even though the theatre has a right and power to speak about history, we should make space so as the theatre has freedom to use fiction in an absolute manner.  The history is above mundane matters, and we know it.

Conclusions? In the context of the 75th anniversary of the Second World War instead of twisting everything round, rewriting history and writing next stories, it would be worth propagating the Polish identity in a manner which is free from re-sentimentalism.

The Past is making a come-back, Patrycja Kowalczyk about Mykwa in Teatralia Poznań

Mykwa is a Jewish word meaning a bath for ritual purification of people and objects which for many reasons were dirty. It is also a title of Piotr Rowicki’s drama awarded in “Metaphors of Reality”, Polish drama contest organized by the Polish Theatre.

Mykwa is rooted in a painful ground of Jedwabne massacre. Jan Spieżka has spent there his whole living with his wife, now he is awaiting his death there. An old man, a former Home Army soldier who faces his cruel „-self” from the war-time. A beast in a human body who murdered and raped without any scruples. But the past is coming back just like a boomerang. It is difficult to forget one’s past, what is more the past does not let be forgotten. „The ground is soaked with the blood of memory” – a phrase said during the performance.

His wife has been living for years unaware of his cruelties as he conceals them thoroughly; and he committed all his misdeeds because he had a justification for his actions. He mistakes a priest for a Jew killed by himself, and then he makes his confession before him. Sapieżka’s grandchildren, Agnieszka and Krzyś, the representatives of our generation are ridiculous. A 15 year old girl cannot do without a mobile phone, 18 year old anti-Semitic grandson is irritating in his convulsive shaking. The old man is visited by the ghosts of his past, he sees 13 year old Jewish girl Sara whom he raped. The rape scene is presented metaphorically: a young girl is skipping rope frantically, having an apple stuck in her mouth. When Jan Sapieżka is at the end of his tether he confesses before the God, this confession is heard by his wife and grandson Krzyś. Krzyś turns out to be not only a thief but also a murderer as he inflicts punishment on his grandfather. That is a plot.

Wojciech Kalwat played a great role, wonderfully depicting a villain who faces the demons of his past. These demons are: raped Jewish girl, the Jews whom he pricked with a fork and moans of those who got burnt in a barn. His Sapieżka is very expressive, sometimes heart-taking, usually repulsive in his actions. Małgorzata Peczyńska plays his faithful wife and the role was perfectly tailored to her. The cast was brilliant, all actors gave a wonderful performance.
Stage design introduced a new quality of perspective. Innovation appeared on stage. The actors walked on marshy ground. Their feet sank in the ground deeper and deeper with every single step. Not only was „the floor” untypical – also the ceiling was diagonal and seemed to be falling down. Such space can be interpreted as instability and mess in which Jan Sapiezka has to live due to his past and remorse.

Additionally, actors playing witnesses acted from the audience. They walked between rows telling how horrible massacre they had to watch, they gave testimony to everybody, afterwards they left us feel ashamed. The sense of the scene of rape committed against a woman who first provoked a German soldier is unclear. Who was she? There was no link whatsoever to Jan Sapieżka.
During the last scene we watch a Christmas dinner; Krzyś the grandson keeps on shouting in a rude and vulgar manner what he thinks about the Jews and the grandfather.

At the beginning of the performance after sitting comfortably in an armchair a nice voice recited Władysław Bełza’s children poem:
“Who are you?
- A small Polish boy.
What is your sign?
- White Eagle!
- where do you live?
- with my people (…)

Having seen the performance no one mentions the comfortable armchair, let alone spiritual comfort … Accusations, grief, confession. The history leaves a mark.

Patrycja Kowalczyk
Teatralia Poznań
10 April 2009

“The faces of authenticity” Dominika Kopeć about Mykwa in Teatr

„Close Strangers” European Theatre Encounters

….A skinhead in Monika Dobrowlańska’s „Mykwa” has something in common with a man belonging to dresiarz subculture from the spectacle made by Wałbrzych Theatre. His ruthlessness and belief in his ideas are not presented in the form of caricature, but they become a kind of obsession, compulsion which comes back constantly. Łukasz Chrzuszcz moves all the time, his body shakes and he keeps walking from one place into another. The manner he uses his body on stage designates the character, awakes a feeling of uncertainty and distrust towards him. Ascetic stage design built merely of horizontally lifted plane makes it possible to notice every detail. By no means is the space cluttered, no sign of useless illusoriness. The spectacle is transparent in its form and expression, ascetic. Every single gesture carries a meaning. Let us give an example of the plane lined with sponge which makes the actor walk on it as if through marsh.

Piotr Rawicki’s drama refers to Jedwabne masacre. As far as the text is concerned we deal with a story told in a realistic manner. The spectacle direction breaks this realism. The story about an old man visited after his death by the murdered people – the consequence of his countless sins of the past – becomes on the stage a macabre night dream. Actors’ bodies not only represent the characters, they also get blended into the plastic space of the stage like objects, they become a part of cruel vision. The skinhead in his convulsions is almost a movable stage element. The best example of treating an actor like a stage element is the scene when a girl dressed in a white dress, gagged with an apple from the man’s garden tree skips rode in dazzlingly-sharp, fierce light. The scene is the metaphor of rape committed on a 13 year old Jewish girl. Paradoxically, a very sensual scene is more brutal than any naturalistic report could be, as a contemporary spectator has already got used to such naturalistic pictures.

There is no place for any nuance. The director speaks in a decisive tone without any implicitness. She brings the history and national symbols under review in a ruthless manner. The performance begins with a poem going out of the laud speakers: “Who are you? – A small Polish boy. Finally we can hear a solemn choir performance of Rota song During the performance the Russian soldiers will enter the audience to glance straight into the audience’s eyes. Dobrowlańska, in an unusual manner, combines a sharp glance with balanced judgements. In this criticism deprived of chiaroscuro, in avoidance of harmful compromises, the Poznań performance is more like German dialogue, deprived of false discount rate, rather than Polish manner of reasoning.

Dominika Kopeć
Teatr, 7/2009