Theatre director, born in 1973.
Education and Debut
Kleczewska studied psychology at the University of Warsaw as well as graduating from the Directing Department at the State Theatre School in Kraków. During her studies, she collaborated with Tadeusz Bradecki and worked as Krystian Lupa's assistant at the Stary Theatre in Krakow. She also cooperated with Krzysztof Warlikowski on the production of Sophocles's Electra at Dramatyczny Theatre in Warsaw (1997).
Kleczewska debuted on the stage of Słowacki Theatre in Kraków presenting Anna Reynolds' and Moira Buffini's Jordan (2000); Dominika Bednarczyk created a moving role in the monodrama-confession made by a lower-class girl.
The tragedy of a girl who does not know how to live is indeed touching - wrote Joanna Targoń. - It was made possible thanks to the collaboration of the actress and of the director, as well as a result of the stage design – all mutually supporting each other instead of searching for effects and ideas. ("Gazeta Wyborcza – Kraków" June 20, 2000)
After her successful debut Kleczewska produced Hugo con Hofmannstahl's Electra at Norwid Theatre in Jelenia Góra (2001), adding fragments from Aeschylus's Oresteia to the script. While doing an in-depth analysis of the character's psyche and the motives behind her conduct, in the play Kleczewska put her main focus on loneliness, alienation and the inability to find oneself in the modern world. A year later the director returned to Słowacki Theatre to produce a contemporary play by the Scottish playwright David Harrower, Knives in Hens. Her play – about the search for identity and about discovering the world by a young woman – was not met with a warm welcome this time.
Vital Voices - Polish Theatre in the Early 21st Century
The principal, most important reason for the failure of the play in Krakow is quite certainly the way it has been directed - Justyna Nowicka noted. - Maja Kleczewska proved unable to tell a simple story written out for three parts. The characters' emotions either remain confusing or are presented with such naivety that it is impossible to believe them. ("Rzeczpospolita" October 1, 2002)
Successful Work with Actors
What's more, Maja Kleczewska created plays at Szaniawski Theatre in Wałbrzych, under the direction of Piotr Kruszczyński. There she produced Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (2002) and They Shoot Horses, Don't They? based on Horace McCoy's novel (2003). In both these productions the director's work with the actors gave remarkable results, and the plays proved precise commentaries on the present.
You watch her play like a story about contemporary Wałbrzych - Jan Bończa-Szabłowski wrote about "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?". - This all shows how much McCoy's vision relates to our own times. The characters we see would surely take part in the next edition of "Big Brother"; they would let themselves be humiliated in Michał Wiśniewski's show, and they would talk about their most intimate experiences without embarrassment. All this to escape the overwhelming misery.("Rzeczpospolita" May 15-16, 2004)
Kleczewska also took part in the preparations for the premiere of Kopalnia / The Mine, a play written by Michał Walczak and directed by Kruszczyński at the theatre in Wałbrzych; she collaborated on the dramatic editing of the text (2004).
In 2004 Kleczewska squared up to Anton Chekhov's works. At Norwid Theatre in Jelenia Góra she showed The Seagull, a drama about human unfulfillment, and where she chose to strongly emphasise the mutual, toxic emotions and relations between the characters. The plot was transferred to a contemporary sanatorium. Kleczewska created the show considering the context of the space she was working in, as she did before in Wałbrzych.
I always associated Jelenia Góra with a sort of sanatorium or waiting room - Kleczewska said - with a temporary space, and at the same time a space you could not leave, but in which you could put down roots. ("Nowiny Jeleniogórskie" February 7, 2004).
Staging Evil in Macbeth and Woyzeck
Shakespeare's Macbeth was one of Kleczewska's most well-known plays, staged at Jan Kochanowski Theatre in Opole (2004).
I, human, am responsible for all that happens in the world. This is the type of consciousness we need in theatre - Kleczewska claimed. - Nothing more. ("Notatnik Teatralny" 2004, no. 35)
It seems that these words were a precise description of her interpretation of Macbeth, where evil became total and overpowering. As the evil created by human beasts was "shiny" and cheap, too, we had to feel it even more painfully.
The characters from "Macbeth" staged in Opole - wrote Anna R. Burzyńska - in the most horrible way distort the humanistic claims about the unlimited potential existing in humans. They think that since they have been forced into the hardships of existence, they deserve all the best from life. And they hesitate at nothing in order to achieve it. ("Tygodnik Powszechny")
In the play the director used the style of violent cinema, filtering the playwright's drama through popular culture.
Kleczewska's next production, Georg Büchner's Woyzeck (Wojciech Bogusławski Theatre in Kalisz, 2005), a drama about a wretched barber-murderer – with the lead part played brilliantly by Sebastian Pawlak – was transferred to the present, a provincial town. The director managed to show the duplicity, the hypocrisy and the cruelty of Woyzeck's world. In the reality of the play, one in which you could find both a television talk show and a baroque altar hanging above the stage, evil was rife and the world was riddled with violence, viciousness and social ill. In this moving story you could see a real tragedy of a man driven to crime; you could also notice – as earlier in Macbeth – an attempt to describe and evaluate the earthly evil, the more biting as it was related to the altar made to remind us about the moral values and sanctions.
The subsequent plays directed by Kleczewska were produced at Stary Theatre and at The National Theatre in Warsaw. In Krakow she showed a classic work and a very contemporary piece: Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream (2006) and Blasted by Sarah Kane (2007). Shakespeare's story turned into a supplement of Kleczewska's two previous productions, Macbeth and Woyzeck, both ruthlessly depicting the corrupt, hollow world. A Midsummer Night's Dream was shown in a night club, the only reality of the play, deceptive, pulsating and vile. Kleczewska offered a scathing description of the world in which love was impossible and humankind was headed toward extinction – an immersion in lies. The natural consequence of showing a world in which people drowned in destruction and bestiality was her next choice: Sarah Kane's Blasted from 1994, the study of destruction and hate.
In 2006 Kleczewska showed Phèdre, using the works of Euripides, Seneca, Per Olov Enquist and István Tasnádi. Danuta Stenka piercingly portrayed an obsessive, insane need of love, emerging and growing regardless of social convention, culture, and regardless of her own self. The actress revealed a wild, physiological desire with no restraints.
Phèdre, amazingly, almost exhibitionistically played by Danuta Stenka, moulds a sick love for her stepson from both Hippolytus's spit of youth and the deathly smell of the body of Theseus, her husband - Łukasz Drewniak wrote. - She is the most radical of Kleczewska's heroines. She proves that female humiliation does not come from the outside. And it does not stay in the head, it stays in the loins. ("Przekrój" 2006, no. 50)
At Jan Kochanowski Theatre in Opole Kleczewska produced Ödön von Horváth's Tales from the Vienna Woods (2008). In her most recent play, written by Horváth, the director created a picture of contemporary Poland from a story about the birth of fascism. She used the stereotypes of Polish Catholics, Backwater Poles and Polish anti-Semites, making an attempt to show how individual evil translates into the evil of society.
Theatre of Extreme Emotions
Without a doubt, Kleczewska is one of the most prominent and bold personalities in contemporary Polish theatre. She interprets the classics in a very personal way, she flirts with kitsch, and she takes by the handful from visual pop culture. "We can’t pretend it doesn’t exist. Tracking pop culture and synchronizing it with theatre is very important to me", emphasizes the director in interviews. In her theatre, she portrays human being in extreme situations. Her productions are regarded as performances which sharpen the perception of reality, focusing on the most painful subjects: infanticide, corruption, insanity, sexual identity, obsession with body, and otherness.
If I was making theatre in London or Paris, I would probably touch on other problems. However, I work in Poland, and here the otherness is not accepted, it is marginalised, rejected, under suspicion and causes fear. In this respect, theatre is a space where we can confront the Other in a safe way. For me, theatre is a space of freedom for a group of people, who, through exchange and in the sincerity of their longings, needs and desires, can do whatever is on their minds together – Kleczewska says in Bzik Kulturalny.
She has staged works by Shakespeare (Tempest), Chekhov, Sara Kane, and most recently, Austrian Nobel Prize winner Elfriede Jelinek. She interprets great works with her own vocabulary, as she claims that loyalty towards authors can be dangerous, as it limits imagination and detaches us from what is most important. Her recent productions – the abundantly awarded Podróż zimowa / Winter Journey and Cienie. Eurydyka mówi / Shadows. Euridice is speaking starring Katarzyna Nosowska were staged in the Polski Theatre in Bydgoszcz.
Behind the Curtain: Contemporary Polish Stage Design
Invited by Paweł Łysak, at the time the freshly appointed director of Powszechny Theatre in Warsaw, Kleczewska took up a dramatic text which had been staged in Poland only once before – The Rats by the Nobel-winning German writer Gerhart Hauptmann. In doing so, Kleczewska took her stand on the Russian military intervention in Ukraine, happening just across Poland’s eastern border. The artistic elites and celebrities were under scrutiny, too. In an interview for Culture.pl the director said:
Together with Łukasz Chotkowski, responsible for the dramaturgy, we ask who is able to afford a housekeeper coming from the East and who benefited from the political transformation of 1989 – who are the inhabitants of gated communities? What is their attitude? How do they perceive the world?
The premiere of Dybbuk directed by Kleczewska opened the jubilee season in the Jewish Theatre in Warsaw. The creators decided to complement the dramatic text by S. An-sky (which is well known to Polish viewers) with the stories of the inhabitants of the Warsaw ghetto, and Holocaust victims and survivors. According to the critics, Dybbuk is one of Kleczewska’s best pieces. The play was appreciated by the jury of the Interpretacje Ogólnopolski Festiwal Sztuki Reżyserskiej (the Interpretations Polish Festival of Directorial Art ) – Kleczewska was dubbed the best director. Justifying this choice, Małgorzata Sikorska-Miszczuk said:
Jewish Theatre in Poland: Fragments of an Illustrious History
Kleczewska has not only managed the text well – she has also noticed that she worked with particular, remarkable theatre. It is one of a kind, the people who are in it are one of a kind, and the director managed to mould this particularity into a stage spirit. And finally – this is of importance to me personally – she maintained a sense of humour while handling a difficult subject matter. This is very important in life.
In March 2017 Kleczewska, once more in co-operation with Łukasz Chotkowski, staged The Painted Bird, based on Jerzy Kosiński’s first novel. The play was co-produced by Polski Theatre and the Jewish Theatre in Warsaw. Piotr Paziński wrote for the Polish edition of Newsweek:
It is a work about shattered memory, a carefully hidden fault, and the dybbuk of Shoah, who cannot die in the country of landscapes that have been forever marked by the tragic events, in the country of railways leading to death. It is about fear that paralyses the living and the dead until this day, not allowing a moment of respite. It is about the ruins of the Jewish world after Shoah; finally, it is about Jerzy’s absolute fear – he was a half Polish, half New York writer, a survivor ‘from there’, and his humiliation was even greater than the fear itself.
Aneta Kyzioł, reviewing the play for Polityka weekly, wrote:
It is a moving play about guilt and pain, about the unfulfilled need for compassion and mourning, and about hatred lurking on both sides – the Polish and the Jewish. It ends with a call for a cleansing prayer.
In 2018 Kleczewska prepared three premieres: As You Like It by Shakespeare in the Stefan Żeromski Theatre in Kielce, Under the Influence in the Silesian Theatre in Katowice, and The Bacchantes in the Powszechny Theatre in Warsaw. The latter two gained particular publicity. Under the Influence is an adaptation of the film directed by John Cassavetes, narrating the story of a woman who breaks down under the weight of everyday problems. Kleczewska set it in contemporary Poland. Sandra Korzeniak, playing the main role of Mabel, was awarded for her performance and appreciated by the critics. Witold Mrozek wrote for Gazeta Wyborcza:
[…] Under the Influence is a theatre of one star – Sandra Korzeniak. The rest is only a background for her supreme acting and personal drama.
The actress spoke about the role in an interview for Wyborcza, taking up one of the play’s main themes – the concept of ‘madness’, and particularly the reception of female ‘madness’:
The question is: are we dealing with mental illness here? When I hear I’m a lunatic I ask myself whether it’s me or the people saying so that are crazy. Who is abnormal here? What is the norm?
At Boska Komedia festival Under the Influence was dubbed the best play, and Korzeniak was appreciated as the creator of the best female role. For the piece, Kleczewska was also awarded the Konrad Swinarski award for directing.
The Bacchantes premiered in December 2018. Kleczewska and Chotowski, responsible for the dramaturgy, said in an interview for Co Jest Grane:
Men deciding what to do about women – this is a situation we know very well from politics. We are trying to take over the lectern and finally give it to women.
The problem of the female voice and its recognition in the public sphere – seen against the background of current political and discursive contexts – was central to the play. The social gender divisions were emphasised with a series of risky artistic means, including dividing the audience into two parts – female and male – and asking the latter one to leave at the end of the play.