Born in 1979, Michał Walczak trained as a director at Warsaw’s Theatre Academy. Building on the tragi-comical rough-and-tumble between the sexes, with the cruelty and humor of mutual misunderstanding, Walczak is considered one of the most prolific Polish playwrights of the younger generation.
Michał Walczak, photo: Stanisław Kowalczuk / East News
Walczak made his debut with The Sandbox in 2001, in which he conveyed the story of a man’s and a woman’s inability to articulate emotions, and their human need for love. In the play, a young man addicted to television and all-things Batman, struggles as he is only able to express his emotions through the language of the cinema. A young girl which appears on stage alongside the masculine character is nostalgically attached to her doll, bringing the toy with her wherever she goes. The characters’ paths cross in a sandbox. There they discover that with the memory of childhood innocence, comes the ability to communicate, and the comical confrontation and a battle of the sexes unfolds from here.
The Sandbox was staged at 11 different theaters across Poland and the US, and translated into German, English, Hungarian, Czech, and Italian. Walczak's dramas was also staged by theatre directors including: Tomasz Man, Paweł Miśkiewicz, Jarosław Tumidajski, Giovanny Castellanos and were translated into English, German, Lithuanian, Italian, French, Hungarian, Serbian, Latvian, Czech, Slovak, Hebrew, Russian, Ukrainian, Swedish, Spanish, Belorussian and Estonian.
The next piece written by Walczak was the 2002 Journey to the Inside of the Room. Staged at 5 theatres and translated into German, Dutch, and Lithuanian, it was authored by the playwright when he was 23 years of age. It is an ambiguous story of Poland’s young generation, which, in spite of the alienation testified by by the main characters, prooves invariably universal.
Journey to the Inside of the Room provides an amusing perspective on today's generation and its attempts to "exit the movie" and grasp reality (love, a job, an apartment), but as usual – things turn out a mess! With comic elements (such as a character desperate to remain sane as he takes a shower accompanied by shouts of seagulls) and mostly a very humorous air, Walczak's play also manifests many formal similarities with the famous 1968 play from Tadeusz Różewicz, The Card-index (Kartoteka).
The First Time, another noteworthy piece from Walczak, is a story about a couple fumbling to initiate an erotic encounter on a rainy night. Instead of following their own desires and instincts, they follow the rules and tips for living a beautiful life provided by glossy fashion and life-style magazines, and disregard the reality around them. The play is peppered with unexpected twists, frequently verging on the absurd. Translated into German and French, The First Time was awarded the main prize at the Forum for Young Authors at the 2006 Heidelberger Stückemarkt.
To date, Walczak’s oeuvre has grown to include over 20 theatre pieces. His works also include two plays for children: The Last Daddy and The Sad Princess.
Commenting on his own work, Michal Walczak revealed that his plays:
are based primarily on a ferocious, tragi-comical rough-and-tumble between the sexes, with all the cruelty and humor of mutual misunderstanding between the contemporary SHE and HE.
In a review of Walczak’s recent To nie jest kraj dla wielkich ludzi (This Ain’t No Country for Great People) for the Przekrój weekly, Łukasz Drewniak has enthusiastically praised the show:
Michał Walczak, fascinated with the vis comica of Rafał Rutkowski from the Montownia theatre company more than a dozen funny monologues. Gathered in a pack they become our Polish version of Anglo-saxon stand-up comedy. (…) I choked with laughter while watching this monty-pythonic impression of a military official, who posseses the secret power of detecting homosexuals. The adventures of legless scouts who have named themselves The Snakes deserves a separate script altogether. (…)
Gazeta Wyborcza’s Joanna Derkaczew commented in her review of the solo piece:
Together with Michał Walczak, Teatr Montownia’s actor Rafał Rutkowski creates Polish stand-up from scratch. The effect is stupefying. First and foremost, Walczak – one of the best playwrights of the young generation - is back, alive, and kicking. The short scenes about an insecure priest who conducts his beloved woman’s wedding ceremony, the army gay-detector tests, and the image of a private and exclusive kindergarten for you-know-whose children all faithfully convey this Polish madness of ours. (…)
Apart from the bitter-sweet and tragi-comic fates of relationships between men and women, Walczak also addresses themes that are quite specific to the Polish theatre scene in a way that his quite fresh and original. The theme that often recurrs on Poland’s stages is that of national identity, and the dilemmas that Poles have confront and tackle between themselves. Walczak has addressed these socially and at times historically pertinent issues in a play entitled Amazonia. It paints a portrait of a couple of young actors, who face the reality of a concrete jungle - the titulary Amazonia is the savage, surreal, and surprisingly funny world of Polish show-business. The playwright comments
Is the only true Poland the one that mourns, that suffers, and never stops to look back, or, hasn’t the time come for a different Poland, an Amazon Poland: Colourful. Exotic. Tropical. A sensual and wild Poland - what a great and dangerous utopia. Would it hurt to fantasise a little from time to time?
The classics also find their echoes in Walczak’s plays. In Kac (The Hangover), the young playwright conveys five protagonists captive in a dance of the chochoły - rosebush cane straw-wraps. This scene openly alludes to a motive that is iconic in Stanisław Wyspiański’s legendary 1901 play, entitled The Wedding / Wesele. Phantoms from the past which are evoked in the play and speak in verse are also very much the ghosts from Adam Mickiewicz’s Dziady / The Forefathers’ Eve, a theatre and literary piece that is defining for Polish culture. A watchful audience will also trace paraphrases of Shakespeare and Calderon in Walczak’s world of surreal and dreamy realities.
People made of skin and bone are accompanied by ghosts - disguised as old schoolmates who coax the characters to return to a carefree student’s life, or as ex-girlfriends and fiancees who are the fantastic ideals that no present substitute can live up to. The plays are also full of mythical and metaphoric figures. The Journey’s Kurtyna and Judas appear dreaming of real drama and a bloody antique tragedy as they are full of contempt for the fallen contemporary humanity, which can at its best crawl up only to the level of a tragic farse.
The toying with various theatrical traditions, the use of clever metaphors and unexpected detours into the surreal and absurd are all the unique qualities of Walczak’s plays. These distinct manouvers make his works light and timeless at the same time, attracting artists and audiences alike.
In 2012 Walczak wrote yet another witty comedy, Boski romans / The Divine Affair and staged the play at the Konsekwentny Theatre in Warsaw.
Michał Walczak wrote and directed also Dom Aktora. Ostatni Guliwer / Actor House. The Last Gulliver (2013, Jerzy Szaniawski Dramatyczny Theatre in Wałbrzych), Depresja komika / Depression of a Comedian (2013, Polonia Theatre in Warsaw), Złe kino / Bad Cinema (2014, Dramatyczny Theatre in Wałbrzychu), Duch Pikadora / Pikador's Ghost (2014, Och-Teatr in Warsaw), Jak wytresować dziewczynkę? / How to Train a Girl (2015, Warszawski Cyrk Magii i Ściemy).
In 2012 Walczak together with Maciej Łubieński created Pożar w Burdelu / A fire in a brothel in Warsaw, they also authored all the staged texts. Pożar w Burdelu is political and literary cabaret aiming at discussing social and political events in Poland. So far they have staged over 40 plays including: Pożar w burdelu (2012), Artefakt (2012), Fuck for Warsaw (2012), Stadion zombie / Zombie Stadium (2013), Don Juan w Warszawie / Don Juan in Warsaw (2013), Śmierć w wielkim mieście / Death and the City (2013), Degeneracja, czyli śmierć Warszawy / Degeneration or Death of Warsaw (2014), Inwazja dybuków / Invasion of the Dybbuks (2014), Herosi transformacji / Heroes of Transformation (2014), Upiór w Pałacu / Phantom of the Palace (2015), and Dziewczyna z Marszu Niepodległości / A Girl from the Independence March (2015).
- 1995 - 2nd place for the short story Burza / The Storm in the Grzegorz z Sanoka Literary Contest;
- 2000 – a special distinction for drama Nieznajomi / The Strangers in a competition for young playwrights Szukamy polskiego Szekspira 2000 / We are looking for a Polish Shakespeare 2000; an award for the best drama for Podróż / The Journey in the Maria Konopnicka Literarty Competition;
- 2001 – a distinction Dziwna rzeka / Strange River In the competition organized by the Culture Forum in Łódź; 2nd place in the competition for the best drama for Rzeka / River granted at the 5th Comedy Festival "Talia"; an award the piece Wziemiowstąpienie in a youth competition for the best essay "Quo vadis kulturo?";
- 2002 – an award for the best play for Piaskownica / The Sandbox in the competition organized by the Culture Forum in Łódź; an award in the "Radom Odważny" competition for Podróż do wnętrza pokoju / Journey to the Inside of the Room; an award of the Warsaw Drama Asocciation competition for Podróż do wnętrza pokoju / Journey to the Inside of the Room; an award for the best drama for Bez didaskaliów / Without Stage Directions in the Maria Konopnicka Literary Competition;
- 2004 – a special distinction awarded by the 2nd Programme Polish Radio and the Union of Stage Artists and Composers (ZAiKS) for the best radio broadcasts for the play Pierwszy raz / The First Time;
- 2005 – an award for Kopalnia / The Mine at the 11th National Competition for Polish Contemporary Play Staging in Warsaw; an award for an original play for Podróż do wnętrza pokoju / Journey to the Inside of the Room at the 5th Polish Radio and Television Theatre Festival ’Dwa Teatry' in Sopot;
- 2008 - ATEST for the high quality and artistic level for the performance Ostatni tatuś / The Last Daddy written and directed by Michał Walczak;
- 2011 – an award for the most interesting play for children and youth Janosik. Naprawdę prawdziwa historia / Janosik. A Really True Story at the 5th International Festival of Contemporary Drama for Children and Youth Kon-teksty in Poznań;
- 2014 – Wdecha Prize in the category of “Event of the Year” for Pożar w Burdelu.
Source: Polityka, och-teatr.pl, Polish Institute in New York, press release; updated December 2016, ND.
Thumbnail credits: Albert Zawada, Agencja Gazeta