Maja Komorowska is an acclaimed theatre, film and television actress. Born in 1937.
Maja Komorowska studied puppetry at the National Academy of Theatre of Krakow. After working for a year at Kraków's Theatre of Masks and Puppet Grotesque she moved to Jerzy Grotowski's 13 Rows Theatre in Opole, and then to the Laboratory Theatre in Wrocław. She worked with Grotowski until 1968, starring in a number of productions including Juliusz Słowacki's Kordian, Calderon's and Słowacki's Worker's Oratory and The Unshaken Prince. In the early 1970s she was taken on at the Contemporary Theatre of Warsaw by its director, Erwin Axer. There, she has played in Edward Bond's Lear, Thomas Bernhard's Boris's Feast, Ernest Bryll's The November Thing and Słowacki's Kordian; she is still working with this theatre today. From 1982 to 2014 she was a lecturer at The Aleksander Zelwerowicz Theatre Academy in Warsaw, she obtained the title of professor in 1991. She has also performed in several dozens of plays in the Television Playhouse (Teatr Telewizji).
Film and Stage Carrer
The 1970s also witnessed Komorowska's screen debut in a short film by Krzysztof Zanussi called Mountains at Dusk, after which Komorowska soon became the director's favourite actress. He cast her in his best productions, including The Family Life, The Quarterly Balance, The Spiral and At Full Gallop. She also worked with Andrzej Wajda on The Wedding and The Maids of Wilko, with Tadeusz Konwicki on How Far from Here, How Close and The Lava, and with Istvan Szabo on Stories of Budapest.
During the 1980s Komorowska's theatre career was overshadowed by her film work, and the actress performed on stage only five times: in Max Frisch's Triptych (staged by Erwin Axer), in Witkiewicz's Water Hen, in Czechow's Three Sisters and in Peter Shaffer's Laetitia and the Lovage (directed by Maciej Englert).
During the following decade, however, Komorowska began to appear on the stage much more often. She created a number of outstanding and mature parts in productions such as Friendrich Durrenmatt's The Visit of the Old Lady directed by Wojciech Adamczyk, Samuel Beckett's The Happy Days directed by Antoni Libera, Thomas Bernhard's At the Goal staged by Erwin Axer, and Ausloeschung-Extinction / Ausloeschung-wymazywanie directed by Krystian Lupa.
Komorowska is considered to be an outstanding artist and a moral authority within the actors' community thanks to her charismatic personality and acting skills. "There's no doubt that Maja Komorowska is a star, but a particular kind of a star – a unique one. She is untouched by ostentation, an actor's capriciousness or self-content. If one could use the word star, then Maja Komorowska is a star of love and shared responsibility. She loves her landscapes, her family, her friends and her colleagues", said poet and essayist Artur Międzyrzecki.
Collaboration with Krystian Lupa
The actress continued to work with Krystian Lupa. After appearing as Maria in Extinction on the stage of the Dramatyczny Theatre in Warsaw, she played Irina Arkadina in Niedokończony utwór na aktora / Unfinished Piece for an Actor based on Chekhov's Seagull (2004) and the expressive Pilar in Sztuka hiszpańska / The Spanish Play by Yasmina Reza (2004), followed by a role as Anna Meister in Thomas Bernhard’s Over All the Mountain Tops (2006). This was another of “Komorowska’s Bernhards". She seems to be predestined to act in his dramas.
She creates an evocative portrait of a selfless, slightly bitter, but still strong woman who devoted herself entirely to her husband and skilfully takes care of his business" – wrote Rafał Węgrzyniak about the role of Anna. (Odra 2006, No. 11)
A great display of her acting craftsmanship was the role of Sarah Bernhardt in the play Mimo Wszystko / Memoir by John Murrell directed by Waldemar Śmigasiewicz (Współczesny Theatre in Warsaw, 2007) about the last years of the actress’s life. She portrayed a big star accustomed to being paid tribute that was at the same time an intelligent, ironic woman aware that her life is coming to an end. Komorowska, immobilized in a chair, poignantly showed how Bernhardt dealt with old age and impending death.
She could be seen most recently in films directed by Andrzej Wajda. She starred as the mother of Kłos in Wyrok na Franciszka Kłosa / The Condemnation of Franciszek Kłos, which tells the story of a policeman who collaborated with the Nazis during WWII (2000) and the mother of Captain Andrzej in Katyń (2007). Komorowska also starred as the lonely former prima ballerina Hanna Szendroy in the Polish-Hungarian production of Ósmy dzień tygodnia/ The Eighth Day of the Week directed by Judit Elek (2006). In 2009, she starred as Maja in Popiełuszko. Wolność jest w nas /Popiełuszko. Freedom is Within Us directed by Rafał Wieczyński
In 2008, Komorowska returned to the stage of the Dramatyczny Theatre in the refreshed version of the cult production Szczęśliwe dni/ Happy Days, in which she created an unforgettable portrayal of Winnie. "The strength of her talent hasn’t weakened", commented critics 15 years after its premiere.
Masterpieces of Art of Acting
Great roles don't grow on trees, and masterpieces of the art of acting are extraordinary rare, one may encounter them only a few times in life. I consider the role of Winnie performed by Maja Komorowska to be a masterpiece. After so many years I can still see her vanishing body, as if sucked into the mound in which she is buried, in the first act – to the waist, in the second – to the neck. A toque with a feather on her head, which is grotesque in such a situation, seems to be a sign of unwavering faith and hope to the end. I still hear her voice in my ears – commented Janusz Majcherek.
The culmination of her long career in directing and teaching was Szkice Dostojewskiego / Dostoyevsky's Sketches based on The Idiot and The Brothers Karamazov performed in 2014 by graduates of the Warsaw Theatre Academy. "Maja Komorowska’s theatre performed to the end. She leaves the stage impressively, at the peak of her career, just to become a legend," commented Tomasz Mościcki.
In 1993 the Tenten Publishing House published a book authored by Maja Komorowska – 31 dni maja / 31 days of May. Later, in 2004 Barbara Osterloff wrote about Komorowska herself in Pejzaż. Rozmowy zMają Komorowską / Landscape. Conversations with Maja Komorowska.
- 1971 - Zbyszek Cybulski Award;
- 1972 - Award for Best Female Performance as Anna in Krzysztof Zanussi's film Za ścianą/ Behind the Wall at Film Festival in San Remo; First Award for the performance as Hamma in Samuel Beckett's Końcówka/Endgame directed by JerzyKrasowski at Polski Theatre in Wrocław at 12. Kalisz Theatre Encounters;
- 1975 - Golden Medal of Merit; Award for her appearence in the role of Marta in Krzysztof Zanussi's Bilans kwartalny/ A Woman's Decision at 2. Polish Film Festival in Gdańsk;
- 1988 - First Award bestowed by Chancellor of Theatre Academy for special achievements in teaching in the academic year 1987/1988;
- 1989 - Award for merits to Warsaw;
- 1990 - Aleksander Zelwerowicz Award for appearance in the title role in Letycja i Lubczyk/ Lettice and Lovage by Peter Shaffer directed by Maciej Englert at Współczesny Theatre in Warsaw ; Sydney - Polcul Foundation - Independent Foundation for Promoting Polish Culture - distinction for contribution in developing independent Polish culture; Main Award for performance as Letycja Douffet in Lettice and Lovage by Peter Shaffer directed by Maciej Englert w at Współczesny Theatre in Warsaw at 30. Kalisz Theatre Encounters;
- 1991 - Award bestowed by Ministry of Foreign Affairs for special merits in promoting Polish culture abroad in 1990 ; Anna Kamieńska Medal for artistic achievments and work for christian community;
- 1993 - Nedal of Merit for work for the Church;First Award bestowed by Chancellor of Theatre Academy for special achievements in teaching in the academic year 1992/1993;
- 1994 - Ministry of Art and Culture Award for special achievements in art and teaching;
- 1996 - Award for Best Female Performance in Cwał/ At Full Gallop at 21. Polish Film Festival in Gdańsk; Polonia Award in Toronto for performance as aunt Idalia in At Full Gallop at Film Festival in Toronto;
- 1997 - Special Award from Polish Institute in Moscow for performance as Idalia in At Full Gallop
- 2000 - Knight's Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta; Silver Medal for Merits in Defence of the Country;
- 2001 - Totus Award (catholic NobelPrize) in the category achievements in christian culture;
- 2002 - Benemerenti Award (bestowed by The Military Ordinariate of Poland) for supporting detainees during martial law and charity work;
- 2003 - First Award bestowed by Chancellor of Theatre Academy for special achievements in teaching in the academic year 2002/2003;
- 2004 - Order of Poland Restored;
- 2005 - Tadeusz Żeleński-Boy Award for lifetime career achievements;
- 2007 - Golden Medal for the Guardian of National Memorial Sites
- 2008 - Golden Medal Gloria Artis - Merits for Culture; The Ministry of Culture and National Heritage Award - in theatre category; Honorary Award - Jańcio Wodnik at 15. National Film Festival in Września; Best Actress Award for performance as Anna Meister in Over All the Mountain Tops directed by Krystian Lupa at Dramatyczny Theatre in Warsaw at 14. Festival of Pleasant and Unpleasant Plays in Łódź;
- 2010 – Knight Order of Arts and Literature by the French government;
- 2011 – The Grand Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta for "an outstanding contribution to the national culture, for accomplishments in artistic and educational fields";
- 2015 – The Grand Award at the 15th "Dwa Teatry" Festival in Sopot for exceptional performances at the Polish Radio and Television Theatre.
Prepared in June 2002; updated: October 2014, GS, July 2016, ND.