Fresh air from the countryside; The Genius Loci Theater Festival in Nowa Huta

These paved the way for a full month of theaters from all across Poland, being performed every Friday, Saturday and Sunday until October 28. In “Report on the End of the World,” Wierszalin Theater aesthetically falls very much in line with Tadeusz Kantor’s brand of “poor theater”: badly cobbled-together planks of wood form a shoddy picket fence around the stage, and Orthodox crosses that look as though they are parts of said fence; the actors’ clothes are all frayed and cut according to pre-war fashions; time and space shifts without so much as a lighting change for guidance.

The grotesque processions and loping waltz music also inevitably bring Kantor to mind. In terms of plot intention, however, Kantor was never so explicit.”Report” begins with the announcement of a new Messiah, the beginning of a third testament to shed light upon the new ways of the world. This new Messiah is referred to as Ilya, and the “action” of the play – if such a word can be used – consists of reports on this coming and the various travesties of Jesus Christ that it inspires. Immaculate Conception, miracles, the Crucifixion – everything turns into a horrible and degraded caricature of what it was in the New Testament. Such a narrative approach – one where everything in effect has already happened – is a dicey one to say the least, and places a great deal on the shoulders of the actors in question, above all the task of creating dramatic tension through the sheer energy of their performances.

Happily, the Suprasl group is top-notch, and miraculously the viewer does not find his mind wandering at all for the hour of this performance. The music composed is also first rate, ranging from a choir of old women babbling hymns, to the ringing of church bells that slowly adopt a rhythm that on any other instrument might be described as tribal. Having said all this, the anxiety of (Kantorian) influence is very perceptible indeed in this still-young group, and one feels as though they have yet to develop their own theatrical language. The atmosphere of familiarity is distracting here, but a great many Krakowian groups could nonetheless envy Wierszalin their energy and clarity of vision.

A week later it’s the S. Jaracz (Olsztyn) Theater’s turn, presenting a text by a German decadent/expressionist writer from the turn of the 19th/20th centuries who is suddenly getting a lot of attention in Poland: Franz Wedekind. Their “W.B.” is based on a play called “The Awakening of Spring,” and deals with a group of 14-year-olds who feel the first percolatings of intellectual and, yes, sexual desires in their bodies. In this case the play is contemporized so smoothly one wonders if it weren’t written today (with the exception of a sudden discussion between two young would-be lovers about Goethe). The treatment of breakdancing as a crypto-homosexual ritual is very funny. And in general the main paradox of adolescent desire is shown very effectively – the actors fairly writhe in depicting young people’s anticipation of a sexual encounter, and then the act itself is carried out with clumsy indifference.

In general the actors do some frighteningly good work in convincing the audience that they have all the arrogance, excitement and awkwardness of fourteen-year-olds, while never letting the real feelings of these characters slip into caricature. The rest of the festival promises to be just as worthy of attention. For some years now there have been rumours that the most innovative theater in Poland is being created outside of the city centers, in cities like Walbrzych, Bydgoszcz, and Zielona Gora. All of these towns are represented at the festival, as is the allegedly vibrant Wroclaw, providing an opportunity to assess for oneself if these rumours have any substance.

There does seem to be an overload of social commentary in the repertoire, taking shots at easy targets like supermarket culture and the malaise of today’s youth. But Thursday October 18 will provide an opportunity to see the only film made (in secret) of a Jerzy Grotowski performance, as well as a performance called “The Gospel of Childhood” by the Grotowski-inspired ZAR Theater, using recordings of songs collected during the group’s journeys through Bulgaria, Georgia and Greece. The last two days (October 26 and 28) will feature Walbrzych’s Polski Theater with a parody of contemporary Polish society, and Modrzejewska Theater’s (Legnica) reputedly innovative treatment of Adam Mickiewicz’s “Forefathers’ Eve.” Very much worth the trip out to Huta.

Get full details of the shows and a map for how to get there at: www.laznianowa.pl

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