An exceptional theatre and film actor as well as stage director. A genius according to many, Łomnicki was an extremely hard worker and legend of the Polish theatre. He was born on 18 July 1927, in the town of Podhajce (near Lvov) and passed away in Poznań on 22 February 1992.
Tadeusz Łomnicki began his education in the theatre arts in 1945 when he enrolled in the Theatre Studio at the Stary Teatr (Old Theatre) in Krakow, run by Jerzy Ronard Bujanski. He debuted as an actor in the bit part of the Shepherd in Zawieyski's Mąż doskonały / The Perfect Husband (1945), directed by J. Warnecki at the Old Theatre. In 1945 he passed an exam before a committee of ZASP (the Association of Polish Stage Artists), gaining the right to act professionally. In 1946 he spent a season at the Teatr Śląski im. S. Wyspiańskiego (S. Wyspianski Silesian Theatre) in Katowice. He returned to Krakow in 1947, appearing on stage at both the Teatr im. Juliusza Słowackiego (Juliusz Słowacki Theatre) and the Stary Teatr (Old Theatre). In 1949 he left for Warsaw, where he signed on with the Teatr Współczesny (Contemporary Theatre), managed by exceptional stage director Erwin Axer. Łomnicki would remain linked to the Contemporary Theatre until 1974, though during this period he performed occasionally at the National Theatre in Warsaw. He became a member of the Communist Party in 1951; during his initial years in Warsaw he also studied stage direction at the State Higher School of Theatre in Warsaw, where his instructors included Bohdan Korzeniewski and Erwin Axer. He was awarded a directing degree in 1956. More than a dozen years later, in 1970, he became the rector of the theatre school in Warsaw, retaining this position until 1981. At the 7th National Congress of the Polish Communist Party in 1975, Łomnicki was elected a member of the Central Committee. He was trusted by those in power at that time and received an opportunity to create his own theatre. His initiative lead to the creation in 1976 of the Teatr na Woli (Wola Theatre), which he headed until his resignation in 1981. At around the time he left the theatre, two days after Martial Law was declared in Poland, he handed in his Communist Party membership card. That same year he joined Warsaw's Teatr Polski (Polish Theatre), and in 1983/84 was an actor at the Teatr Studio (Studio Theatre) in Warsaw. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, he was not linked to any institutional theatre, instead making numerous guest appearances at a number of Warsaw theatres, including the Dramatyczny (Dramatic), Powszechny (Popular) and Wspolczesny (Contemporary), as well as at the Stary Teatr (Old Theatre) in Krakow.
Of his collaboration with Łomnicki at the Contemporary Theatre, Erwin Axer was quoted as saying, "we have (...) very different temperaments, different talents. I mean, he is much more talented than I am, and I helped him put that talent in order. (...) I was something of a control mechanism for him, (...) somehow we complemented each other, I think. At times we arrived at that tumultuously, at times in harmony." ("Notatnik Teatralny" / "Theatre Notebook," 1992)
In 1962 Axer directed Bertolt Brecht's The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui with Lomnicki providing a brilliant performance as the title character. While working on the production, the troupe had an opportunity to see the play as mounted by the Berliner Ensemble. Years later, Axer would say, "Our production was in counterpoint to that of the B. E. (...) I knew what I wanted to do in terms of 'content.' I was not so interested in the fact that it was against the Nazis, you see? I liked the fact that it was against any phenomenon of that kind." ("Notatnik Teatralny" / "Theatre Notebook," 1992)
Lomnicki stopped short of offering audiences a caricature of Hitler. Instead, he played a monster, the quintessence of evil, the quintessence criminal. He subjected the role to the precision and discipline of his technique, to his mastery of bodily expression. Many years later Olgierd Łukaszewicz would describe this ability of Lomnicki as follows: "The way in which he redescribed himself, remodeled himself, was the work of a visual artist." ("Teatr" / "Theatre" monthly, 2002, no. 3)
His performance as Ui brought the first critical accusations of technical formalism, a charge that would be repeated many times in the future. It was excellent technique, however, that allowed Łomnicki not only to play the essence, but also the sudden and often extreme changes in his characters. "His Glumov from Ostrovsky's 'Diary of a Scoundrel' is a cynical schemer and social climber [Contemporary Theatre, 1965]. 'He's a rogue,' explained director Georgiy Tovstonogov at rehearsal. 'He is always the person those with him want him to be.' So in that one Glumov, Łomnicki played an entire gallery of characters. A fool, a mad lover, a hothead, a melancholic, a nihilist, an ascetic, and a crawling, bureaucratic worm." (Grochowska, "Gazeta Wyborcza" daily, December 7, 2000)
Several of his other performances at the Contemporary Theatre also went down in history. These included his Solyony in Chekhov's Three Sisters (1963, dir. Erwin Axer), the obsessive miser Latka in Fredro's Dożywocie / Annuity (1963, dir. Jerzy Kreczmar), Bill Maitland in Osborne's Inadmissible Evidence (1966, dir. Erwin Axer), a sharp yet distanced performance as the Captain in Durrenmatt's Play Strindberg (1970, dir. Andrzej Wajda) or the title role in Bond's Lear (1974, dir. Erwin Axer). With his performance as the tragic anti-hero Prisypkin in Konrad Swinarski's never-completed production of Mayakovsky's The Bedbug at the National Theatre in Warsaw (1975, the director perished in a plane crash in 1974), Lomnicki proved that one can show an audience a foolish, crude despot who is simultaneously worthy of sympathy. Lomnicki was "the human museum item, Prisypkin in his gilded cage, someone who shows and is shown, someone who suddenly notices other people and realizes they are similar to them." (Augustyn, "Notatnik Teatralny" / "Theatre Notebook," 1992)
At around the same time, Lomnicki assumed the position of artistic and managing director of the Wola Theatre. Kazimierz Kutz wrote, "he was at the peak of his Communist Party career, a member of the Central Committee, and he both wallowed and fidgeted around in his party importance. He had his own theatre and he was rector of the theatre school. He had everything he could ever have had." ("Dialog" monthly, 1992, no. 7)
He was supposed to create a worker's theatre and in this he failed. In the end, he got himself into trouble with those in power. He also had trouble assembling an acting troupe for the theatre. The theatre community could not accept Lomnicki and began to boycott the theatre he had gotten through Communist Party connections. Nevertheless, during Lomnicki's years at the helm, the Wola Theatre mounted many important, artistically successful, bold productions, including a number of Polish premieres. At his theatre Lomnicki was also an actor and stage director. He was masterful as Goya in Vallejo's Gdy rozum śpi.../ The Sleep of Reason, directed by Andrzej Wajda (1976). His portrayal was bipolar, brutal and aggressive at one moment, peaceful and warm the next. His character went "from his initial angry resistance to his final breakdown, passing through all the stages of grief as the circle around him tightened." (Wysińska, "Teatr" / "Theatre" monthly, 1976, no. 10)
Andrzej Wanat wrote that he would get incensed at the way Lomnicki would rush at a break-neck pace to the theatre for rehearsals of that production. "I was furious (...) at this strange member of the Central Committee who was in such a rush to get to his rehearsal, and in the evening would portray Goya so wonderfully in a play written and directed against the specter of totalitarianism." (Wanat, "Pochwała teatru" / "In Praise of the Theatre")
He subsequently appeared on stage as Bukara in Bresan's 'Hamlet' in the Village of Mrdusa Donja, directed by Kazimierz Kutz (1977). As was recorded at the time, his portrayal was "a jewel of a performance, a plebeian hero and a plebeian rogue - pure and simple. Or better even - a human rogue." (Krzemien, "Kultura" / "Culture" monthly, 1977, no. 28)
The director of the production said, "I found it funny (...) how Party member Tadeusz was playing a Communist Party rat. I'm sure that in his role as a Party functionary he encountered more than one rat in his time and I was interested to see how he was going to transfer his day-today Communist Party experiences to the stage." ("Polityka" weekly, 1977, no. 33)
In this case as well, Lomnicki "on stage drew very boldly on his physicality and even on his physiology. He did this in a completely disciplined manner, as a result of which this consciously and methodically obscene portrayal never ventured into vulgarity. This was perhaps one of the most interesting paradoxes of his acting, especially later on in his life, when he was dealing with his ageing and often ailing body." (Kubikowski, "Lomnicki na swojej scenie" / "Łomnicki on His Stage" in: "20 lat Teatru na Woli. Tadeusz Lomnicki. Tworca i zalozyciel teatru" / "20 Years of the Wola Theatre - Tadeusz Lomnicki - Theatre Creator and Founder")
In 1980 Łomnicki decided to confront the Romantic repertoire. His approach to the title role in Słowacki's Fantazy, directed by Kulczynski (1980), was contemporary and distanced. "Łomnicki provided a sharp and provocative rendering of Slowacki's masterpiece, revealing its highly paradoxical nature: it depicts a man who rebels romantically against Romanticism itself - a thinking, suffering, tragicomic hero of our own times." (Adamski, "Express Wieczorny" / "Evening Express" daily, 1980, no. 73)
Lomnicki bid his farewell to the Wola Theatre in a tremendous performance as the neurasthenic Salieri in Peter Shaffer's Amadeus, directed by Roman Polański (1981). He based his manner of acting on constant transformation. "Łomnicki acts very broadly, feels no embarrassment, no restriction. He changes his voice, transforms his body in many different ways, he fills the stage at one moment to hide in the shadows at another. His cries fill the theatre after which he passes into a barely audible whisper. At the same time, his performance is no affectation; instead, it is a merciless study of the downfall of a man who began his malice out of envy." (Klossowicz, "Literatura" / "Literature" monthly, 1981, no. 29)
The most famous of the productions that Lomnicki directed at the Wola Theatre, one that gave rise to numerous protests, was that of Tadeusz Różewicz's drama titled Do piachu / Six Feet Under (1979). "The production brought out everything we knew so well from anti-Home Army propaganda," Andrzej Wajda was quoted as saying. "What's worse, it was poorly done as a theatre production, which only deepened the impression that it was a lie." (Grochowska, "Gazeta Wyborcza," December 7, 2000). Tadeusz Różewicz, who received a series of anonymous letters in response to the staging, asked Lomnicki to close the production down. In 1981 Lomnicki resigned from his position as director of the theatre. His decision was a natural consequence of both the social and political situation at the time and the lasting disapproval of the theatre's acting troupe. The artist also lost the support of his Communist Party comrades, who until recently had backed him without question.
Lomnicki put in some of his best performances during the time he had no home theatre. He appeared in two productions of Beckett plays directed by Antoni Libera. His Krapp in Krapp's Last Tape (1985, Studio Theatre) hypnotized audiences, the actor using the words of the play as symbols upon which to erect contemporary references. He also sought to analyze contemporary culture in End Game (1986, Studio Theatre), where his Hamm seemed to embody many characters: Job, Lear, Prospero. At the time, Elżbieta Baniewicz wrote, "In situations like these, we speak of the strobe-like ontological status of the hero. Acting as a principle of existence becomes the sole plan upon which we identify the character." (Baniewicz, "Teatr" / "Theatre" monthly, 1986, no. 7)
Lomnicki inscribed his own personal experiences in his next two outstanding performances. His transposition was so complete, however, that the result was a desperate story not about the condition of an actor, but about the human condition. The artist also appeared in a production of Dorst's I, Feuerbach (1988, Teatr Dramatyczny / Dramatic Theatre), which he directed himself. Elzbieta Baniewicz wrote, "Thanks to Tadeusz Lomnicki, 'I, Feuerbach' luckily becomes a grand and wonderful treatise on theatre, a treatise on angst and satisfaction, foolishness and success, finally, on the destitution and greatness of the acting profession. What's more, there is the scene in which invisible birds crowd onto Feuerbach's shoulders, a scene beautifully played by Łomnicki that references 'Saint Francis's Flowers' at a textual level. This scene turns the play into a story about the downfall and reemergence of a man, about greatness that is born from humility." (Baniewicz, "Teatr" / "Theatre" monthly, 1988, no. 3)
Lomnicki as Bruscon in Bernhard's The Showman (1990, Contemporary Theatre, dir. Erwin Axer) provided yet another great acting confession as well as a synthesis of the history of humanity. The artist also played the Hero in Rozewicz's Kartoteka / The Card Index, creating a character who, in doing a self-examination, descends at times into the madness (1989, Studio Theatre, dir. Zbigniew Brzoza), rendering himself a hero of a passing generation.
Łomnicki also put in many great performances in television theatre. He worked closely in this domain with Zygmunt Hübner, who cast him as Chichikov in Gogol's Dead Souls (1966), Tartuffe in Moliere's Tartuffe (1971), Stefan Szczuka in Andrzejewski's Popiol i diament / Ashes and Diamonds (1974), and the title role in Gorki's Yegor Bulychov (1975). He also played Orestes in Goethe's Iphigenia in Taurus, directed by Erwin Axer (1965), and Macbeth in Andrzej Wajda's television production of the famous Shakespeare play. Lomnicki also put in a performance as the Hero from Różewicz's The Card Index, directed this time by Konrad Swinarski (1967). Jerzy Gruza entrusted him with the role of the Mayor in Gogol's The Inspector General (1977). Lomnicki's final performances in television theatre came as Boguslawski in Spiro's The Impostor (1991, dir. Tomasz Wiszniewski) and Isaac Sager in Salvatore's Stalin, directed by Kazimierz Kutz (1992).
As early as 1976, Krzysztof Zaleski recorded Lomnicki as saying, "Did you hear that? Holoubek is going to play Lear, but he's never suffered, g........it!" (Zaleski, "Lomnicki na swojej scenie" / "Łomnicki on His Stage" in: "20 lat Teatru na Woli. Tadeusz Łomnicki. Tworca i zalozyciel teatru" / "20 Years of the Wola Theatre - Tadeusz Łomnicki - Theatre Creator and Founder"). He had dreamed of playing the part for a long time before he finally succeeded in mounting a production and going into rehearsal on Shakespeare's King Lear. He first asked noted translator and poet Stanislaw Baranczak to produce a new translation of the play. The translation in hand, he approached a number of directors about working with him on the production. Among those who turned him down at the time was Andrzej Wajda. Ultimately, Eugeniusz Korin agreed to direct the production at Poznan's Teatr Nowy (New Theatre). One week before the premiere, on February 22, 1992, Tadeusz Lomnicki passed away while rehearsing.
Important awards and distinctions:
Author: Monika Mokrzycka-Pokora, March 2003
Selected film appearances:
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