For Polish playwrights, 1989 was a year of euphoria, relief and hope.
For Polish playwrights, 1989 was a year of euphoria, relief and hope - as it was for all of Polish society, except perhaps for individual satellites of the departing regime and for a completely negligible handful of orthodox Communists. As it were, writers no longer felt like traipsing their plays over to state censors before publishing or staging them (and in the last days of their power, censors indeed issued often curious, almost comedic decisions), and theatre directors no longer cared to consult theatre repertoires against guidelines compiled by the relevant comrades in the omnipotent Party. For artists and writers, freedom was a wonderful gift, and for the most part they knew its value and how to use it. They were not aware, however, that the new domestic situation would change everything, and that some of these changes would be painful. They were unaware that, paradoxically, while beneficiaries of the transition, they would at once become victims thereof. In many cases, euphoria eventually gave way to more or less intense bitterness, while the explosion of national and intellectual freedom failed to bring the eruption of creativity that was expected.
Then again, the starting point - i.e. the mood and situation directly preceding this, in truth, unexpected explosion of freedom - was hardly favorable. Actually, it is hard to imagine one that would be worse.
Polish theatre art of the latter half of the 20th century had two high points. The first followed the so-called "thaw" after October of 1956. Following the dismantling of Stalinism in the Soviet Union and an appropriate change of government in Poland, the ideologically rigid and stale Socialist Realist doctrine was abandoned, i.e. the iron curtain separating Polish stages from the Western repertoire was lifted. The results were shocking. Many interesting things had been happening in European drama since the end of the 1940s; thus, with the thaw, a wave of aesthetic, formal and thematic innovations flowed into the country like a deluge through an open lock, filling the playbills of Polish theatres and leaving little room to spare. Doubtless, drama and theatre became one of the most important tools used by artists to comment on reality. The invasion by Western playwrights was complemented by the appearance of domestic writers of equal skill and rank. Making their debuts at this time were Tadeusz Różewicz and Sławomir Mrożek, Poland's most exceptional playwrights of the latter half of the century. And they were not alone as they were accompanied by a number of other writers who, though less famous, were highly respected.
The second such period of fecundity came fifteen years later, in times that might be viewed as crowning the Polish variation of counter-cultural movements. At the turn of the 1960s and 1970s, the city of Wroclaw with its Międzynarodowy Festiwal Teatru Otwartego (International Festival of Open Theatre) was one of the world's capitals of insubordinate theatre movements. Jerzy Grotowski was at the height of his theatrical fame (and on the verge of abandoning the art of creating spectacles entirely) and new ensembles appeared, expressing social, political, ethical and existential anxiety in sharp, modern ways (mostly within the limits established by censors, though at times venturing beyond said limits). This period did not give birth to its "own, distinct" playwriting, though it should be underlined that the plays "written on stage," i.e. created in rehearsal (partly based on improvisation), upheld the lively, heated nature of stage work. They also clearly stimulated traditional theatre and playwriting, though it was at the time fashionable to deny any contention of this sort.
By the 1980s, those feverish times were but a mere memory. Post-1956 playwriting had become dated and weak, the counter-cultural revolt had burned out. The events of 1980 and 1981 proved traumatic for Poles. They experienced the rise of the "Solidarity" movement, which was nominally a labor movement of several million, but was actually a fundamental social movement that attempted to avoid bloodshed while widening the boundaries of freedom. They also experienced the dismantling of this movement by force through the introduction of Martial Law by a Communist regime that acted in this way against its own nation. Generally, repressions did not take the form of physical pacification, but it can easily be said that the mental pacification exacted on the population deprived all Poles of hope. Excluding a handful of texts, productions and phenomena, the decade was mostly characterized by fruitless, barren shows of force by artists and censors. Many of the works that were "pushed through" in triumph at the time proved entirely anachronistic just a few years later. Martial Law also clipped the wings of an entire generation entering adult life and creativity; they burned out more quickly than usual, leaving vacancies in all areas of creativity, in theatre and playwriting no less.
Is it thus surprising that after 1989, the year when Communist censorship was junked, there was hope that exceptional works which might have been written "for the desk drawer" would surface? As it were, the desk drawers of writers were empty. One might even say, desolately so.
The old masters certainly had nothing in their desk drawers. Tadeusz Różewicz had written his last dramatic work - the half biographical, half phantasmatic story about Franz Kafka titled Pułapka / The Trap - very early on in the 1980s. Later, he shifted his focus almost entirely to poetry, at times deluding theatre aficionados with promises of a new play. These promises never took shape, neither in the apathetic 1980s, nor in the times of new found freedom, when earlier plays like Do piachu / Six Feet Under, a non-heroic take on World War II, and Białe małżeństwo / Mariage Blanc, about fin-de-siécle anxieties and erotic dreams, were revived and proved contrary to decorum. True, Różewicz made a name for himself as a playwright of the new era, but only indirectly so. Specifically, someone persuaded him to conduct a series of rehearsals of his Kartoteka / The Card Index, his revolutionary debut from 1960. With this in mind, Różewicz reconfigured the work and wrote a handful of new scenes. This new version, titled Kartoteka rozrzucona / The Card Index Dispersed (1994), was then published. In spite of its reliance on the original, it proved one of the most interesting theatre pieces about contemporary times; its innovative form (a collage-type fabric of quotations, documents of everyday life and fiction) was complemented by uncannily accurate gibes, which demonstrated the writer to have a satirist's blade of the highest quality.
Another example of Różewicz's "indirect" playwriting life was Rajski ogródek / The Garden of Paradise (2001), a daring script made up of experimental one-act plays by Różewicz from the 1960s, assembled into a whole by young director Paweł Miśkiewicz. One of these plays - Nasza mała stabilizacja / Our Little Stabilization - at one time lent its name to the era when it was created and to which it referred. In the new turn of the century, Miśkiewicz found not at all aged elements of that "little stabilization" of yore, which included a constant fear of not finding anything permanent and unchanging in life, existential uncertainty veiled in substitutes, babble and a general grin and bear it attitude. Forty years on, Różewicz resurfaced as someone in tune with the times and a constant and fervent admirer of his compatriots' stances, while his "new drama" composed of his old texts proved more accurate than many works written in these new times.
The second great Polish playwright, Sławomir Mrożek, sought to settle the score with the Communist system in a work that was in no way simplified and that breathed new life into the "executioner-victim" scheme, a work, however, that he wrote a moment too soon. Portret / The Portrait was published in 1987, at which time it had to pass through an irregular censorship apparatus that arbitrarily replaced some words with others and introduced a certain flippancy in the juxtaposed stances of the Stalinist informer and the "martyr" surprisingly willing to bow before the portrait of the tyrant. Thus modified, in times when the country remained under the Soviet yoke the play had little chance of sounding as the writer had intended it to. Poland's return to independence found Mrożek in Mexico, where he was living with his wife on a ranch beautifully named "La Epifania." He had just been through some serious troubles with his health and was in the process of writing the burlesque Wdowy / The Widows (1990). As is usual with Mrożek, in this play the action consists of humorous dialogues full of absurd paradoxes. These transpire between two widows, while the third remains silent throughout the play, concealing beneath her funereal veil a bony skull.
Mrożek's next play, Miłość na Krymie / Love in the Crimea (1993), was made famous by a series of unusual accompanying circumstances. The author "fortified" the work with ten clauses in which he obliged any theatre staging it to refrain from making any cuts, to build realistic scenery, to respect the sequence of acts, to use a traditional stage curtain, etc. He also ordered every theatre to publish these demands in the program under the heading "Autor zwariował, albo ostatni Mohikanin" / "The Author's Gone Made, or The Last of the Mohicans." The clause proved troublesome less because of its radicalism than because of the limited attractiveness of the play itself, which proved less popular than anyone expected. Few theatres decided to stage this three-act brick constituting a strange, though at times brilliant, pastiche of Russian idioms (Act One was an extract from Chekhov, Act Two - let's say of Bulgakov, while Act Three was an obscure burlesque about contemporary Russia). Unlike Mrożek's new plays during the prosperous years, Love in the Crimea was hardly taken on by the country's significant theatres wit eagerness. Absolutely no one decided to stage his next work - two one-acts under the title Piękny widok / A Beautiful View (1999). And this should truly be considered a shame, as this piece consisted of the well-wrought, witty discourse of two heterosexual couples set in a situation that came across as ambiguously dangerous. This play full of imprecise wartime tension (inspired by the conflict in the Balkans) could have been the basis for an interesting production. The last Mrożek play published to date, Wielebni / The Reverends (1999), seems to have been classified as none too successful thing by the author himself. This absurd farce about an Anglican parish to which two vicars, a woman and a Jew, are appointed at one time and by accident, seems not to know how to end; and a helicopter (almost like a deus ex machina) needs to appear to enable the curtain to drop.
Janusz Głowacki also joined the group of rejuvenated older generation masters. This prose writer, columnist, playwright and screenwriter, "captured and held" in New York by the advent of Martial Law in Poland, took up the heroic effort of surviving in the United States solely by writing. While there he went through, one might say, a killer school of professional survival. He returned from exile with two plays. Polowanie na karaluchy / Hunting Cockroaches (published in Poland in 1990) is a play about the humiliating existence of Polish exiles in the States. This same topic would be tackled, though in far sharper, libelous form by another prose writer, Edward Redliński, in his play Cud na Greenpoincie / The Miracle of Greenpoint (1995). Hunting Cockroaches enjoyed significant popularity throughout the country once staged. However, Głowacki's next effort, Fortynbras się upił / Fortinbras Is Drunk (1990), could be viewed as a model of playwriting of the era of the ancien regime, where observations about the mechanisms of social and political government are camouflaged in historical or literary costume (Hamlet's Denmark is Poland, while the Soviet Union masquerades as Fortinbras' Norway). This kind of playwriting based on allusions was common during Communist times but was swept completely off the country's stages by independence, disappearing at times as quickly as did the writers practicing it.
Obviously, this sweep did not encompass Głowacki, who two or three seasons later offered up to theatres what is perhaps the most interesting dramatic work of the decade - Antygona w Nowym Jorku / Antigone in New York (1992). Of the Classical myth only the rudimentary is left: the necessity to bury a dear one against all odds and adversities. Głowacki set the play in Tompkins Square Park in New York and used it to explore the social milieu of homeless, classless exiles, who are greedy, egotistical and clever, yet prove capable of a broad, altruistic gesture at a trying time. As was customary for him, Głowacki stripped his protagonists of all pathos, telling their tale through sarcastic, at times macabre humor. The writer assigned the role of the Greek chorus, not without spite, to a limitlessly self-satisfied New York police officer. In the dialogs of a Pole, a Russian and a Porto Rican woman, Głowacki achieved what is most important - generalized drama and pain, without stripping his characters of originality and clarity.
The reception of Antigone was far better than that given to Głowacki's next play, Czwarta siostra / The Fourth Sister (1999). Perhaps the reason for the general irritation lay in the fact that once again - soon after Mrożek - a Polish author had drawn on contemporary Russian folklore. Głowacki was accused of a lack of political correctness in the way he superficially made fun of Poland's once-hated neighbor. Those who criticized the work failed to notice that the subject matter of Głowacki's writing games in this play, which directly references Chekhov in its title, was not so much Russian reality as it was a certain body of cultural and literary stereotypes. The stereotypes he explores are not confined to the vast country to the east of Poland, for the reference point for the burlesque story line is a documentary film being made by an American with an Oscar in mind. All the intended superficialities contained in the piece are double bracketed, and taken all together everything seems to betray an overt fear of contemporary superficiality and thick-skinned reception and understanding of the world, modes of reception that globalization (in shortening distances between the continents) seems not at all to prevent. Rather, the exact opposite is achieved.
Among estimable older writers who dabble in playwriting in addition to producing prose, it seems only proper to mention Wiesław Myśliwski, an exceptional representative of the "peasant current" in Polish prose. His Requiem dla gospodyni / Requiem for a Housewife (2000) could be viewed as a kind of ultra conservative manifesto that takes the form of imaginative, poetic recollections of the old times of rural, patriarchal order which are accompanied by passionate philippics against the downfall of contemporary customs. As is usually so in these cases, the theses seem dazzlingly helpless - though it is hard to deny the truth of the basic mantra: "you're all children of one mother: television."
The undeniable star among playwrights of the middle generation - i.e. that least favorably treated by recent history - is Tadeusz Słobodzianek. This inhabitant of Poland's eastern provinces gained fame immediately after graduating from university, when under the aristocratic alias "Jan Koniecpolski" he assumed the role of enfant terrible among Polish theatre critics. In the name of elementary rationale and logic, he attacked the sacred figures of the stage and literature. Upon the introduction of Martial Law in Poland in 1981, he abandoned criticism, began studying puppet theatre directing and started writing. His dramatic debut Car Mikołaj / Tsar Nicholas (1987), was well received and elicited expressions of great hope, though Polish theatres, possessing deeply ingrained bourgeois habits, did not quite know how to handle this story set in the 1930s and replete with juicy profanity, about the inhabitants of the desolate eastern rural regions of Poland. His next play, Obywatel Pekosiewicz / Citizen Pekosiewicz, was set closer to contemporary times, in the infamous year of 1968 when in-fighting in the Communist Party gave rise to a top-down directed, shameful, nationwide anti-Semitic campaign. In Słobodzianek's play, we see these events from below, from the perspective of a God-forsaken small town; two provincial "rulers of souls" - a Communist Party secretary and a Catholic bishop - engage in a struggle, and the victim of their provocation lands in a mental hospital. The play won Słobodzianek a prize in an official, state-sponsored playwriting competition, after which censors effectively arrested the work. It did not appear in print and on stage until much later, almost simultaneously with the elections of 1989 that marked the rebirth of Poland's independence and the restoration of civil liberties in the country.
Słobodzianek is a moralist, though he avoids preaching like fire and hides his message in crude, non-beautified forms. He describes desperate people who are filled with atavistic dreams of ennoblement, of finding a meaning in their existence. This is the case with Prorok Ilja / The Prophet Ilya (1992), another story about the eastern regions of Poland after Tsar Nicholas. The play was based on the real life figure of a rural prophet who considered himself the Son of God sent down to Earth once more. His contention gives rise to despair among his tribesmen. Their sense of world order disrupted, they happen upon the insane idea that the Messiah needs to be crucified, that they need to be eternally damned in order to restore the cosmos to order. This endeavor obviously ends in grotesquerie, but the pain of its participants (who remain barely conscious of it, perhaps just sensing it) reverberates strongly.
The question of God's direct responsibility for evil on Earth, embodied in moving, desperate complaints-reproaches-accusations, is a frequent motif of Słobodzianek's dramas. It also appears in his two morality-like stage parables. This is true of Merlin (1993), which in Manichaeic, sometimes blasphemous ways inverts Christian moral dogma and shapes the figure of the wizard of Arthurian legend almost into an Anti-Christ, and of Kowal Malambo / Malambo the Blacksmith (1993), a stylized "Argentine legend" in which Jesus listens to the complaints of oppressed mortals and proves incapable of hiding his helplessness. Both plays, unusually interesting as they were, did not bloom as they deserved to on Polish stages, perhaps because they were written for the special "instrument" that was the wandering Teatr Towarzystwa Wierszalin (Wierszalin Society Theatre), which combined stage puppetry techniques with live action. Unfortunately, shortly after completing these plays, Słobodzianek parted ways with Piotr Tomaszuk, co-founder of the Wierszalin Society, who also wrote for the group and directed its productions. Before this occurred, however, the two artists succeeded in jointly completing the exquisite Turlajgroszek / Pennyroller (1990), a bitter fairy tale about a contemporary family, its susceptibility to even the most primitive forms of temptation, its lack of the elementary ability to love. The piece effectively shows the triumph of Satan and the helplessness of respectable people. This morality play about an orphaned child abandoned by its parents for a measly penny did not end with even the intimation of a happy conclusion. "They never learned how to love. It hurts," concludes the chorus.
After a long silence, Słobodzianek published Sen pluskwy / The Bedbug's Dream in 1999. This is one more title in the hard to explain thread of Russian reminiscences in the playwriting of independent Poland. This time the narrative of the story focuses on the further adventures of Prisypkin (the hero of Mayakovsky's The Bedbug), who is released from his cage after the fall of Communism. Like Mrożek and Głowacki, Słobodzianek also treats Russia more as a reservoir of literary motifs than as a reality. Into this story full of references to Bulgakov and Yerofeyev, the author inserts questions about the possibility of realizing inborn human dreams of a cosmic order among chaos, about the utopian nature of all paradises, including that of the Christian variety. In staging the world premiere of the play, Kazimierz Dejmek, the clearly left-leaning veteran of the Polish theatre, preferred to read The Bedbug's Dream as one more settling of accounts with the painful political delusions of the past century. Somewhat surprisingly, contemporary audiences, which had in recent seasons had few opportunities to see similar work, reacted in an entirely lively manner.
Readers of this report from the playwriting front in independent Poland might be surprised by one rather obvious omission - namely, the lack of works that would in any way note the country's restored independence, refer to the historical events that directly preceded that fortunate event, grapple with the problems the country has had to face since. In truth, this lack, especially evident in the initial years of freedom immediately following 1989, cannot be hidden and constitutes one of the main weaknesses of the stage art of our times.
In the year of the transition, writers' desk drawers, so to speak, were empty. Political events of the first years of independence galloped along so wildly that no one seemed eager to set them down in the form of a dramatic work (or in creative work in general). The tensions elicited by, and sacrifices required for, the achievement of socio-economic transformation encouraged most of the artists who supported the reforms to assume of a nation-building stance. That is, they tended to ease conflicts rather than expose their full scale, to consolidate society rather than irritate it. In the meantime, this tension, a certain excess of preaching (especially by essayists and the mass media) and an invasion of purely commercial entertainment combined to elicit aversion to anything even remotely connected to politics. Historical topics were discarded, people scrambled from even the most innocent forms of "state honors" as if they were swarms of wasps, and the word "ethos," once key to the peaceful victory of the "Solidarity" movement, was relegated to cabaret acts. Artists of all generations, consumed by passivity, found it impossible to counteract this trend.
However, areas just waiting to be exploited were certainly there. The greatest stage success of the early years of restored freedom was the musical Metro (1991), the first-ever truly "Western" spectacle to appear in Warsaw, one that simultaneously constituted an effort at creating a private, commercial theatre. This production proved successful not only because of its modern production qualities, the insane energy of its young performers and its success at putting the cankerous elites of the theatre community in their place. Also significant was the libretto: a simplistic and basically stupid story about a group of young people who are rejected by the establishment, travel to Paris, perform in a metro station and become successful on a bewildering scale. Young people who flocked in the thousands from the farthest corners of Poland to see the musical needed their myth, their own legend, confirmation of their new identity. We are nevertheless allowed to believe that they might have welcomed and accepted content of a higher intellectual order than the primitive libretto of this production; the trouble is that neither theatres nor playwrights had anything to offer.
Stage art proved helpless in face of the emotional needs of young viewers, who rejected the platitudes and exaltations of the older theatre generations. Theatre also proved incapable of handling the new, none too beautiful reality: the organized crime that appeared in the country with the advent of real (rather than Communist) money, the violence, the drug addiction, etc. Artists held to the erroneous conviction that viewers wanted theatres to provide entertainment, fun and opportunities for a light evening above all. And theatres supplied this lightness, primarily by staging imported farces. This diagnosis was proven false by the success of a play (or more strictly a series of one-acts) titled Młoda śmierć / Young Death (1995). The author of this piece, the now-deceased Grzegorz Nawrocki, was a misunderstood reporter and minor playwright who nevertheless possessed a good ear for issues of social import. In this series of works based on real events, Nawrocki described, without dissimulations or "safeties," thoughtless, cruel murders perpetrated by juveniles, even children, on their peers and on defenseless senior citizens. Formally simple, these records of tragic situations exposed a chasm of immorality, dehumanization and mercilessness. After premiering at the Teatr Współczesny (Contemporary Theatre) in Szczecin (which was making various and significant efforts at identifying new authors), the play went on to be staged by many other theatres throughout the country. The almost inborn function of the theatre as a sobering force and carrier of warnings seemed to be returning to favor. The abundance of similar new texts tat might have been expected did not surface. Though it is true that theatres finally ceased avoiding sensitive topics, in undertaking them they had to seek out plays from abroad, settling primarily on those of the "brutalist" trend, which from Great Britain and Germany was to spread throughout all of Europe at the end of the 20th century.
The most interesting young Polish authors preferred to abandon everyday reality for separate, imaginary but simultaneously highly interesting worlds. Ultimately, though after great difficulties, Lidia Amejko succeeded in winning a place on Polish stages. This came with some effort because her plays resemble mysterious and delicate philosophical treatises rather than efficient, easily mounted pieces for the stage. Directors face a tremendous challenge in her Męka Pańska w butelce / The Lord's Passion in a Bottle (1995). The play is about a homeless woman in Amsterdam who in rummaging through trash heaps finds a cane to which the soul of Uriel d'Acosta, a Medieval mystic and heretic, has been confined by magic, and a bottle which has been used to contain Golgotha, petrified there with two Roman soldiers standing guard as Christ suffers on the cross. The author's greatest stage success came with the satirical comedy Farrago (1997), a play that combines perverse humor with serious reflection and provides excellent opportunities for actors. In Farrago, a popular star of second-rate action movies appears before the faces of God (boasting the earthly title "Excellency") and Saint Peter. The charges against him focus on his committing fancifully evil acts in fiction films. Unexpectedly, these accusations can easily be extrapolated onto the Judge himself, who after all is responsible for the evil of the world, which could be looked at as a divine, and often none too impressive, fictional tale. Lidia Amejko's newest work, Nondum (2001), is based on one of the best-known sentences from the Old Testament. If in the beginning, there was the Word - so at the end, the Word must also be present. "As it does on everything, destiny descends upon man through God's speech, and when a man is born, he receives some small piece of this story." When he dies, he must return that piece - i.e. pay back the divine loan - except this proves somewhat less than easy.
Jerzy Łukosz, also of Wrocław and therefore a compatriot of Amejko, has also garnered a place for himself on theatre playbills. This respected scholar of German literature wrote his doctoral thesis about Thomas Mann and his play about this German writer was something of a by-product. Tomasz Mann / Thomas Mann (1995) is an ironic tale about the temptations (fame, honors and above all a "historic mission") that the Nazi government of Germany put before Mann. The story explores temptations unfulfilled, but exposes the weaker aspects of an artist's nature, the vanity and naiveté that are intrinsically linked often-pervasive wisdom. Apart from a portrait of Mann himself, the play offers an equally interesting, perversely ironic portrait of the writer's tempter, a simpleton barber and party functionary who ultimately becomes Mann's closest confidant and an expositor of the writer's work. Building on his interests in the great figures of German literature, in 2001 Łukosz published the one-act play Hauptmann. In this work he describes the post-World War II meeting of the German Nobel Prize-winner, residing at his estate in territories given to Poland by the Allies, with an entirely well educated, literarily savvy officer of the Soviet security forces. Their discussion reflects the same strengths that characterize Łukosz's play about Mann: it shows both the writer's wisdom and his touching weaknesses and inability to adapt to the approaching times. Another noteworthy work by Łukosz is his one-man play titled Grabarz królów / The Gravedigger of Kings (1997), about a Pole pressed into labor in a German cemetery during World War II. In this capacity, the character finds a way of evening the wrongs and injustices of the world by transferring the ashes of poor, cremated children to the tombs of the rich and removing the remains of the latter to urns and flower beds.
The brightest Polish playwriting star in recent years has clearly been Ingmar Villqist. This author's foreign sounding name is no accident: it is an element of the personage shaped by a respected Polish art historian for his playwriting and directing activities. Villqist has created his Norwegian identity, his biography and a map showing the mythical Ellmit, the city among seaside fiords where most of his dramas play out. His plays can easily be identified as manifestations of the author's fascination for the work of the Scandinavian masters of psychological drama, from Ibsen and Strindberg to Bergman. Villqist's plays can be grouped into two series. In the first of these, the stories and situations are set in realities that are obviously fictional but modeled on European history of the 1930s - i.e. the realities of a state suffering under chauvinistic and fascistic tensions. Noc Helvera / Helver's Night (2000) is a dramatic study of two people, an unhappy girl and a mentally challenged boy she has decided to raise, and their psychological bond, the dialectic of their love and humiliation. In order to save her ward from bands that wander about eliminating the handicapped and "unclean," the girl prefers to kill him herself by forcing him to overdose on medicine. Another play in this series is Entartete Kunst (2001), a piece about government and military commissions that engage in the humiliating reeducation of artists in an effort to cure them of "degenerate art."
The plays in Villqist's second series are set contemporarily. They above all consist of one-act plays from a cycle titled Beztlenowce / Anaerobics (2000), in which the author focuses on psychologically damaged people, contemporary "strangers" who pursue different, tumultuous lives at the fringes of what is purportedly a normal society. The writer impresses through the subtlety and precision with which he portrays his "anaerobics," people involved in same sex relationships, married couples raising children they only imagine they have, etc. He has been accused of rendering this world abstract, stripping it of recognizable realities, creating a peculiar laboratory environment: the mythical Ellmit, it has been said, might actually be located anywhere. However, is this universality truly a sin?
There is little of no euphoria or excitement in my description of the fate of Polish playwriting after 1989. Well, this is how things stand. In spite of the achievements of Polish playwrights and the high status they often enjoy, Polish theatre of at least the last decade, but perhaps the entire twentieth century, has primarily stood on the strength of its directors and actors. Commentators of these stage arts have certainly had more reasons to be happy. At the same time, the plays I have described here I daresay include a handful of exceptional titles that could easily interest viewers throughout Poland as well as those far away from the land on the Vistula River. It is only proper to wish that these works will indeed receive an opportunity to excite audiences elsewhere.
In Polish theatre life, the playwright has a lower status than other theatre artists. Recent years have seen an improvement in this situation. Since 1994 the Ministry of Culture has been organizing an annual competition in which the creators of the best productions of contemporary Polish plays receive prizes, while theatres that take the risk of mounting premieres of contemporary domestic plays receive refunds of a portion of their costs. Poland's largest daily newspaper, "Gazeta Wyborcza," continues to promote the country's young playwrights. External examples also have their effect. Namely, new playwriting is a basic component of new theatre just beyond Poland's borders in Germany and Scandinavia, and following the example set by these countries, ever greater numbers of Polish theatres are organizing workshops and internships for those wanting to learn to write for the theatre. Many of these workshops are gaining an international dimension. More and more theatres are also inviting viewers to attend presentations of new plays that assume the form of more or less staged readings. Evenings of this kind draw significant audiences, which only goes to confirm that viewers' appetites for this type of work remain largely unsatisfied.
The currently maturing, highly interesting generation of new authors may encroach upon Polish stages at any moment. Recounting their successes or failures might thus be possible on some future occasion.
Author: Jacek Sieradzki. This text was previously published in Polish in the monthly "Ade Teatro", September 2002.