stage director

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

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