American film and theatre stars Ellen Burstyn and Kathleen Turner took part in a reading of Tadeusz Słobodzianek’s Nasza klasa / Our Class in New York. Cosmin Chivu directed the event.
Tadeusz Słobodzianek, who visited the Monday play reading, explained to the audience that he was inspired to write the play by Jan Tomasz Gross’s novel Neighbours, which elicited an enormous discussion in Poland. Słobodzianek decided to join it and to write about the complicated Polish-Jewish relations since 1925 up to contemporary times. The play is a story about a group of classmates, Poles and Jews, which unmasks the results of the war – betrayal, repressions and cruelty.
Słobodzianek reminded the audience that Our Class was staged in the USA by seven theatres.
Ellen Burstyn, an Oscar winner, starred as Rachel/Marianna, and Kathleen Turner, laureate of two Golden Globes, performed the role of Zocha. Other members of the cast included Grant Kretchik (as Jakub Kac) and Alvin Epstein (as Abram).
Słobodzianek said that the performance of Burstyn was peculiarly touching to him, as casting her in this role was one of his biggest dreams. He previously saw Our Class being staged in Washington, Philadelphia and Chicago. The American artists demonstrated a fascinating perspective on his play:
Now that our world has changed so drastically, when we look at what’s happening in Paris or Copenhagen, by showing how Poles deal with the topic of anti-Semitism, Our Class proves that they fit in the world’s avant-garde. Americans can appreciate that in the context of strong anti-Semitism in all parts of Europe. I think that Our Class also detonates this bomb in a way.
Cosmin Chivu, who directed the scenic reading, didn’t hide that work on the text was difficult. The American audience is used to a different structure of drama and the way of writing. He described the play as a remarkable supplement of the New York theatre scene. As he said:
I think that this history will become close to each person at different level, regardless of religion or gender, and one will appreciate that this is not simply a new concept in dramaturgy, but also a chronicle of hope. I deeply believe that the play will be very successful in New York.
The reading was enriched with music composed by Jesse Selengut, with performance of Tatiana Eva-Marie (vocals), Marius Mihalache (dulcimer) and Stefan Zeniuk (clarnet).
Polish Cultural Institute in New York co-organised the reading. The acting director of the institute, Bartek Remisko, explained that the idea of the staging of Our class springed in 2014 when Ida was screened in American cinemas. It turned out that in the USA there is a need for a dialogue about Poland, Polish-Jewish history and about Poland' on-going changes:
The Americans are ready for a discussion, even though it can be difficult, because the play also raises a question whether Americans and American Jews helped the East-Central Europe Jews during the Holocaust. Our Class is universal here, as it shows that war is the greatest evil, nobody – regardless if one’s a Christian, Pole or a Jew – lives a simple life afterwards.
Source: PAP, Andrzej Dobrowolski, edit. KK, transl. Agata Dudek, 16/04/15.