Theatre, film and television actor, director and teacher at the State Drama School in Kraków.
Peszek graduated from the Department of Drama at the State Drama School in Kraków. He made his debut in 1966 in Bertold Brecht's The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui produced at the Polish Theatre in Wrocław. He played there for nine seasons with such outstanding directors as Jerzy Krasowski (The Danton Case by Stanisława Przybyszewska, July 6 by Mikhail Shatrov, and The Revenge by Aleksander Fredro), Krystyna Skuszanka (The Silver Dream of Salomea by Juliusz Słowacki, The Royal Hunt of the Sun by Peter Shaffer, William Shakespeare's The Tempest), Bohdan Korzeniewski (Scapin's Deceits by Molière) and Henryk Tomaszewski (Stanisław Wyspiański's Protesilas and Laodamia).
Peszek moved from Wrocław to the Nowy Theatre in Łódź, where he performed in plays by Kazimierz Dejmek, including Plato's The Apology of Socrates, Antoni Słonimski's Obecność (Presence) and Friedrich Dürrenmatt's The Appointed Time. Nonetheless it was not Dejmek or Krasowski who shaped the young actor but the playwright and composer, Bogusław Schaeffer.
In an interview with the Gazeta Wyborcza daily the actor said:
(…) something happened during my third year of studies that changed my life. I ran into Adam Kaczyński's and Bogusław Schaeffer's company MW2. It was such a shock for me that I, a young man on the verge of adulthood, began to mature really fast. It turned out that you could try to talk about people using an entirely different language, from a perspective unknown to me. Schaeffer's world is smashed into microelements which have to be arranged in order to show pictures of individual situations. I figured it was too fitting to the world I was living in.
Thanks to Schaeffer's influence Peszek started to experiment and to search for new forms of expression in acting. He began creating an individual theatrical language, slightly ludicrous, which avoided an excess of psychology. This style worked perfectly in contemporary plays, especially in those written by Gombrowicz, Mrożek and Różewicz. In his pursuit Peszek received support from Mikołaj Grabowski, actor and director who in his own plays commented on Polish tradition and the present showing them in a distorted mirror. Peszek collaborated with Grabowski in Stefan Jaracz Theatre in Łódź and Stary Theatre in Kraków. Peszek's style took a distanced perspective on the characters he played. His skill for sudden transformation worked wonderfully in Grabowski's productions of Mrożek's The Serenade and The Trainee Fox, Gombrowicz's Trans-Atlantic, as well as Schaeffer's The Quartet and The Script for Three Actors. In 1985, during his collaboration with Grabowski, Peszek created his own manifesto of the language of acting, a monodrama titled Script for Schaeffer's potentially instrumental actor.
The 1990s and the turn of the new century proved the most mature period in Peszek's career. The actor has starred in contemporary works by Krystian Lupa (Dostoyevski's The Brothers Karamazov), Jerzy Jarocki (Jerzy S. Sito's Słuchaj Izraelu [Listen, Israel]), Andrzej Wajda (Yukio Mishima's Mishima), Jerzy Grzegorzewski (Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilyich, Molière's Don Juan). He played Henryk in The Wedding written by Gombrowicz (1998) and Stańczyk in The Wedding written by Wyspiański, both directed by Grzegorzewski at the National Theatre. He has been hired by young directors including Zbigniew Brzoza (Peter Turrini's Finally the End), Mariusz Treliński (Lautréamont – sny [Lautréamont: Dreams] based on Lautréamont, Elżbieta Sikora's Wyrywacz serc [The Usurper of Hearts]), as well as Grzegorz Jarzyna (Thomas Vinterberg's and Mogens Rukov's Festen) and Oskaras Korsunovas (Bruno Schulz's Sanatorium under the Sign of the Hourglass). Peszek makes his own original plays in Poland and abroad; his production based on Sanatorium under the Sign of the Hourglass made in Japan was very well received by the audience.
The following years brought Peszek successful roles in Onegin, a play directed by Mariusz Treliński staged in Wielki Theatre National Opera in Warsaw in 2002, and a year later - in Stanisław Radwan's Opera mleczna (Milk Opera), directed by Mikołaj Grabowski, which was played in the National Old Theatre in Kraków. He directed dramas by Shakespeare, Witkacy, Gombrowicz, Ibsen and Pinter, lately - also plays based on novels. In 2011 Jan Peszek directed Wroniec (The Crowe), based on Jacek Dukaj's bestselling novel, in which the reality of the martial state is shown from the point of view of a seven year old boy. A contemporary fairy tale with historical events in the background left the critics and the audience in awe, and the director explained in an interview for Gazeta Wyborcza:
There is something very enticing in showing the reality of the martial state from the child's point of view. The child is free until it stops believing in fairy tales and grows up. It's worth looking at what's happened with the eyes of a free man. Without prejudice and interpretations filtered through our views, political interest and life experience. I don't intend to analyze what the martial state was in a political sense. Nor do I want to search for the guilty ones, to judge them or justify them. The martial state is more of a background in this play than it is its protagonist.
A few months later electrifying news struck the Polish theatre milieu: Jan Peszek is excercising his karate moves in a Buddhist Shaolin monastery - he's gonna be Bruce Lee! The play Enter the Dragon. Trailer direced by Bartosz Szydłowski was named the event of the year even before it premiered. The great actor was accompanied on stage of the Łaźnia Nowa theatre by his son Błażej, who played Brandon Lee. Earlier the crew went on a journey to China to explore the legend - they visited film studios and trained kung-fu with great masters, writing all about in on a blog.
"We want to present Bruce Lee in a grotesque, humorous way. It is going to be a combination of the spectacular Eastern martial arts with the kitch taken out of B movies" - the creators anticipated. The effects were judged by, among others, Witold Mrozek, who wrote for Dwutygodnik:
Szydłowski plays with this nostalgic and a little trashy dimension of Bruce Lee's legend. Before the master himself will arrive to the casting for the trailer, Franek Kimono from the 1980s will come on stage with his famous song King Bruce Lee Karate Master. It is performed by Mariusz Cichoński, whom the audience in Nowa Huta already know from a great role in Wiktor Rubin's Emmigrants. Other amateur actors from the district of Nowa Huta also appear on stage.
Jan and Błażej Peszek played together also in Pojedynek - zabawa w detektywa (Detective) by Anthony Shaffer, a crime play presented in the Polonia Theatre in Warsaw in 2012.
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In 2014 Peszek prepared an anniversary play, although trespassing the limits of self-celebration. It was entitled Jan Peszek. Podwójne solo (Jan Peszek. A double solo). In the first part he once again faced Bogusław Schaeffer's Scenariusz dla nieistniejącego, lecz możliwego aktora instrumentalnego (Script for an Unexisting but Potential Instrumental Actor), and in the second, entitled Dośpiewanie. Autobiografia (Sing over. Autobiography), directed by Cezary Tomaszewski, the actor told stories from his life, at the same time playing Bach's Goldberg Variations. Łukasz Maciejewski wrote for the weekly Wprost:
This special performance of the Stary Theatre is a one-man chronicle of the avant-garde movement, a masterclass of techniques, styles and skills that should be compulsory for acting students.
In the same year, he also performed in the title role in Edward II by Christopher Marlowe, staged in the Stary Theatre by Anna Augustynowicz. Witold Mrozek wrote about his role for Gazeta Wyborcza:
Most of all Edward II is a great - and ironic - role by Jan Peszek. His protagonist is a king who understood that the mechanism of power is beyond his control. He observes from a distance and mocks even when end is near. The only thing that can pull him out of intellectual numbness, is the love for a young man which ends tragically. But at this tragedy we also look through an artistic frame. Playing with form and the scheme of intrigue is more important for Augustynowicz than any message in the text itself.
Peszek has worked with Cezary Tomaszewski twice more – in Piosenki Miłości i Śmierci (Songs of Love and Death) and Kto Nas Odwiedzi (Who Will Visit Us). The actor had a guest appearance in the widely discussed The Wedding directed by Jan Klata, where, once more in his career, he played Stańczyk – one of the most symbolically charged figures in Polish culture, the famous court jester immortalised by Jan Matejko on a painting depicting him as the only one at a royal ball worried about the future of Poland. Peszek has played this role before in works directed by Andrzej Wajda and Jerzy Grzegorzewski.
In May 2018 Wielki Fryderyk (Frederick the Great) directed by Jan Klata premiered in the Polski Theatre in Poznań. Peszek played the main role. As he told Witold Mrozek in an interview for Gazeta Wyborcza:
This character is so well constructed it is impossible to truly comprehend his essence. […] [The mutually exclusive information in the text] depicts Frederick as fully human, but also ruthless enough to transform a country in a state of anarchy.
Recently Peszek mostly worked in the theatre. On the big screen he appeared in Łukasz Barczyk's Influence. He played an affluent industrialist, Tytus Ceglarski. As he said in an interview for Dziennik Łódzki:
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It's the first time I meet Łukasz Barczyk. When I got the script, after reading just four pages I knew it was going to be something special. I couldn't stop until I finished it, and I was extremely glad to receive this offer. Łukasz is very sensitive to the actors, he knows how to listen and truly hears what's going on.
In 2016 Peszek appeared in the series Artyści (The Artists) by Monika Strzępka and Paweł Demirski, where he played the excellent role of Wojciech Bogusławski's ghost. He also performed on silver screen in Amok (2017) by Kasia Adamik.
Translated by: Helena Chmielewska-Szlajfer, July 2011. Latest update: June 2019 (ns)