stage director

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

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