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Reviewed by:
  • The Third International Gombrowicz Festival
  • Helena M. White
The Third International Gombrowicz Festival. Radom, Poland. 11–15 June 1997.

The Third International Gombrowicz Festival, hosted biennially by Teatr Powszechny in Radom, concluded its program with the screening of a film interview with Witold Gombrowicz, the exiled Polish writer whose works inspired this extraordinary five-day event. In contrast to the Festival’s many audacious and provocative performances of the playwright’s works, the film by the French television journalist Michel Polac, shot shortly before the writer’s death in France in 1969, showed us a slightly built, tormented man, whose acerbity reflected his long years of struggle for survival and recognition. Gombrowicz explained his persistent avoidance of eye contact to his interviewer as shyness and a fear of others—a startling admission from a person whose writing has so boldly debunked Polish traditions. However modest this explanation may seem, it echoed Gombrowicz’s talent for provocation. It indeed provoked a desire to penetrate the façade—to see what lies behind the sadly grimacing and mask-like face that appeared on the screen.

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Figure 1.

The Dancer (Jacek Poniedzialek, downstage) and one of his doubles (Krzysztof Dziemaszkiewicz, upstage) in Teatr Powszechny of Radom’s production of Witold Gombrowicz’s Attorney Kraykowski’s Dancer, adapted and directed by Krzysztof Warlikowski. Third International Gombrowicz Festival, Radom, Poland. Photo: Stefan Oklowicz.

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Figure 2.

Ivona (Caroline Ebner) and the cast of the Deutsches Schauspielhaus of Hamburg’s production of Witold Gombrowicz’s Ivona, Princess of Burgundia, directed by Karin Beier. Third International Gombrowicz Festival, Radom, Poland. Photo: Matthias Horn.

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Figure 3.

Albertine (Sandra Grindebäck) and Count Charmant (Johan Ehn) in Replika of Stockholm’s production of Witold Gombrowicz’s Operetta, directed by Jurek Sawka. Third International Gombrowicz Festival, Radom, Poland. Photo: Stefan Okolowicz.

The Festival presented a total of seven productions of Gombrowicz’s works, of which three in particular stood out: Attorney Kraykowski’s Dancer, an adaptation of a short story presented by Radom’s Teatr Powszechny; Hamburg’s Deutsches Schauspielhaus’s production of Ivona, Princess of Burgundia; and the Replika Theatre Company of Stockholm’s adaptation of Operetta. Other offerings included A Feast at Countess Kotlubay’s, the first English-language adaptation of one of Gombrowicz’s short stories, brought to Radom by The [End Page 116] Center for Theater Research and Performance of the UCLA School of Theater; a disappointing, superficially glitzy Polish production from Szczecin of Ivona, Princess of Burgundia; a Hungarian production of Operetta, with Gábor Tompa directing the Kolozsavári Magyar Színház Theater from Cluj, Romania, which though often inventive and entertaining, ultimately suffered from its slow-paced direction; and Trans-Atlantyk, an environmental performance piece based on motifs from Gombrowicz’s novel of the same title, adapted and directed by Katarzyna Deszcz and Andrzej Sadowski, in a joint production by theatre companies in Cracow and Bydgoszcz. The action of Trans-Atlantyk, played simultaneously in several dimly-lit rooms of a school building under renovation, prompted the audience to find its own way—and meaning—among the performance’s disconnected fragments. As in past years, the Radom Festival’s performances were not limited to Gombrowicz, and this year included three plays by his younger compatriot Slawomir Mrozæek. These consisted of Polish productions of The Party and Out at Sea, and an outstanding Hungarian performance of Mrozæek’s regrettably flawed recent play, Love in the Crimea.

Director Krzysztof Warlikowski’s dazzling adaptation of Attorney Kraykowski’s Dancer fully utilized the state-of-the-art facilities of the host theatre, featuring constantly moving, overlapping action staged at different levels, as well as scrims, film projections, and live music. The audience took their seats in the huge cavity of the theatre’s backstage area, the first row placed on the edge of its turntable, while the regular house with its permanent seats functioned as a backdrop seen through a scrim stretched over the proscenium arch.

The director’s rich theatrical imagination was placed fully in the service of the original short story...

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