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“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

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