One of the leading actors of Krzysztof Warlikowski's Nowy Theatre, an assistant director, and a translator of plays by Tennessee Williams.
Jacek Poniedziałek (born 1966) graduated from the Faculty of Acting of the National Academy of Theatre in Kraków. He performed in the practice stagings prepared by Krystian Lupa, among others in Early Drafts for The Man Without Qualities. Right after his graduation, he was hired by the Juliusz Słowacki Theatre, and two seasons later by the renowned Stary Theatre in Kraków. He was hired by the German director Karin Beier for his staging of Shakespeare's The Midsummer Night's Dream in a theatre in Düsseldorf. During his studies, he'd already started his collaboration with Krzysztof Warlikowski, with the practice staging of Dostoyevsky's White Nights. Their collaboration continued with Marquise O. in the Stary Theatre in 1993.
During his five years in the Stary Theatre, Poniedzialek worked with the most outstanding Polish theatrical artists. He performed in Juliusz Słowacki's Silver Dream of Salomee directed by Jerzy Jarocki, Mykol Kulisz's The Reformer staged by Rudolf Zioło, in Henry Ibsen's Peer Gynt directed by Marek Fiedor and in the famous The Forefathers' Eve - 12 Improvisations directed by Jerzy Grzegorzewski.
In 1997, Grzegorzewski hired the young actor for the Narodowy Theatre in Warsaw, where he performed in Stanisław Wyspiański's The Night of November, opening the rebuilt stage. In the Narodowy Theatre, Poniedziałek also performed in the outstanding Wedding by Witold Gombrowicz directed by Grzegorzewski and in a Tadeusz Bradecki staging Saragossa based on Jan Potocki.
Nevertheless, Poniedziałek did not stay long in the National Theatre. The excessive conventionality of its stagings did not suit him. In an interview he explained his decision to follow Warlikowski in his move to the Studio Theatre in Warsaw:
I felt that I do not fit into the formula of this theatre. I'd imagined that director Grzegorzewski would lead in a different direction.
Working under his favourite director, he played Karol in an unusual staging based on Bernard-Marie Koltes's West Pier.
Poniedziałek moved to the Rozmaitości Theatre in Warsaw together with Warlikowski. Here, their controversial version of Shakespeare's Hamlet was created. The reviewers criticised the concept and the direction of the staging, but they noticed the maturity and the freshness of interpretation in Poniedziałek's creation of Hamlet. Gazeta Wyborcza's reviewer Roman Pawłowski noticed that ‘instead of an analysis of what should be thought about in Poland, we have a story of family problems of a young man, forcibly played by Jacek Poniedziałek. His Hamlet differs from his predecessors by his aptitude to benefit from life, he loves and is loved’. Jan Błończa-Szabłowski (Rzeczpospolita) agreed with Pawłowski stating that ‘the Danish prince in Jacek Poniedziałek's interpretation was completely stripped of pathos and exaltation, often used by the actors previously playing this part. He is not a philosopher, but, using the words of Victor Hugo – an intellectual, to the same extent as each of us. He is a great solitary and a life outsider. He lived deeply the pain caused by the loss of his father and he does not intend to show that feeling off in front of others. He is terrified by wickedness and hypocrisy of the world around him’. And Warlikowski depicted Poniedziałek's working method as follows:
Jacek's road to Hamlet was long. He had already performed main parts, but he also had much more modest tasks to accomplish often. Jacek is not an actor, who became cosy in one theatrical team, he does not forget his tasks and he feels good with that. (...) He works over each role in detail. Since the first rehearsals for 'Hamlet' he had been intensively preparing himself for the role of the Danish prince. He was quickly emerging from the darkness. His Hamlet was becoming more and more distinctive. The problem was that I tried to remain in the darkness as long as possible. I was afraid I would omit something, I was slowing him down. It wasn't easy to ‘contaminate’ him with my vision. Only recently we have managed to join these two worlds. Jacek has a strong, mature and shaped personality.
Poniedziałek continues to work closely with Warlikowski. In the TR Warszawa (formerly the Rozmaitości Theatre) he played in brilliantly directed stagings. He took the role of Pentheus in Bacchae by Euripides (2001), Rod in Cleansed by Sarah Kane (2001) and Stefan in The Tempest by Shakespeare (2003). His performances were intense, expressive, and precise in building the character, but at the same played ‘coldly’, as if in an intentionally aloof manner. In Krum directed by Warlikowski and based on the drama by Hanoch Levin (2005), his character was desperately lonely and his helpless alienation was also emphasized by video projections. Upon arriving in his hometown from overseas, Krum confesses that he didn’t find there a good life either. Joanna Walaszek observed:
We see a man (Jacek Poniedziałek) terribly helpless and in despair, who is not ready to embrace suffering, death, and a life with no support from others. We see close-ups of his arms, legs, and face projected on the screen, but also we see him on the stage – in the spotlight – striking the pose of a complacent model in an advertisment. Krum seen on the screen raises our deepest sympathies. Krum on stage inspires pity, even embarrassment. What's this clown doing here? Ridiculous and arrogant, with an impudent smile, he tells us and his mother who has awaited him (Stanisława Celińska) that he went broke. He came back with nothing, with nothing, nothing.
The actor also performed in Warlikowski’s staging of The Dybbuk by Szymon An-ski and Hanna Krall (2003) as Hejnech / Samuel Kerner and in Angels in America as Louis Ironson (2007). The latter is a deep, painful, drama written by Tony Kushner (2007) which revolves around the most intimate matters of human existence.
Luis Ironson and Priori Walter were a loving gay couple, but when one of them fell ill, the other simply did not live up to this situation. Jacek Poniedziałek as Luis exposes the power of biology, his character abandons his lover and not being able to face solitude begins relationship with another man.
– wrote Elżbieta Baniewicz.
Poniedziałek also played Georg in Krystian Lupa’s staging of Klara’s Relationships by Dea Loher (2003), and in Grzegorz Jarzyna’s staging of 2007: Macbeth (based on Shakespeare's play) as Lenox (2007). He collaborated with Krzysztof Garbaczewski on the play Sexual Life of Savages and Miron Be. He regularly performs in Warlikowski’s acclaimed stagings such as (A)pollonia, The End, Kabaret Warszawski (Warsaw Cabaret), The African Tales by Shakespeare and recently in The French.
He has also directed plays on his own. The autobiographical The Glass Menagerie staged in the Jan Kochanowski Theatre in Opole in 2014 was well received by the audience and theatre critics. Aneta Kyzioł wrote in Polityka:
In Warlikowski's performances Poniedziałek, in tandem with Stanisława Celińska, masterfully acted out a nuanced love-hate relationship between mother and son comprising a ‘ballet’ of unfulfilled expectations, dashed hopes, rebellion and remorse. He expertly directed this relationship in his performance.
Translations and adaptations are important areas of his interest. Not only has he translated plays directed by Krzysztof Warlikowski (including Cleansed, Krum, Angels in America, Streetcar and Nickel Stuff) but also many dramas that were staged at other theatres and printed in the theatre magazine Dialog. In 2012, a collection A Streetcar Named Desire, and Other Dramas by Tennessee Williams was published, and a year later Tango: My Childhood, Backwards and in High Heels the autobiography of a transsexual, Justin Vivian Bond. Working on the translation of the text was quite extraordinary opportunity for an actor to look closely at the character which he eventually played in Kabaret Warszawski. In an interview for Gazeta Wyborcza he described his approach to the role:
At the end of the book Justin talks about her dream. This is a dream about the luxury of normality. About the simple acceptance found in relationships with other people. Neither in her childhood nor in adolescence has she experienced that. This fragment was crucial for me while working on the role. I decided not to be too drag queen(ish), nor to imitate the behaviour of a transsexual person. I just want to touch the sore point.
Poniedziałek’s translations are appreciated for their freshness, authenticity, and extraordinary modern rendering of the source texts. He is praised for his sense of rhythm of phrases. He admits that he perceives translation as an area of exploration.
These are very different areas of cognition, different themes and languages of communication – English is a bottomless pit, an incredible amount of variants. And on the top of that there are different personalities, authors with their psychological complexities, different imaginations. In the theatre, there is a kind of repetition, especially if an actor works mainly with one director, as I do. When I translate, I deal with various literary, human, social, historical, geographical fields. This is actually a journey around the world.
Author: Monika Mokrzycka-Pokora, December 2008, updated in February 2016, AL, sources, Gazeta Wyborcza, Polityka, pc-drama.blogspot.com, Nowy Theatre.