stage director

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.

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