A Piece on Mother and Fatherland (Utwór o matce i ojczyźnie) was written by Bożena Keff in 2008 and published in the English translation by Alissa Valles and Benjamin Paloff in 2012. In the book, mixed voices of the Narrator, mother Meter and the Chorus tell the life stories of a Polish Jewish mother who has survived the Holocaust, and her daughter, whom the Mother has trapped in her own suffering. As the Mother survived the Holocaust, her suffering is without doubt, her sense of having a place within history goes without question, and the proof of her right to existence is indisputable. But because she has had a daughter in defiance of oblivion and the Holocaust, she gives her no right to suffer or have her own separate existence. The daughter seeks libertion from this position, above all through art.
In Keff's book, the mixture of anti-Semitic drivel that appears throughout proves xenophobia is the cementing factor that binds the Polish “fatherland” community. To attempt a different construction of a motherland, one needs narratives that express this murky albeit enduring connection between patriotism and hatred for what is foreign. Keff's book is an unusual expression of hatred for the mother-fatherland.
The text of Klata's play is structured around three great figures: the Mother - seen as the Polish Mother, the Primordial Mother, The Child-bearer, the Goddess, Mother Nature - History, which is understood as the history of men, the history of Poland, the history of suffering women in parallel to the history of fighting men, and the Narrative. The scheme of the text oscillates between three tensions: a personal one between mother and daughter, a historical one between the witnesses and victims of wartime events and the postwar generation, and a social one between the accepted narrative and the narrative of the excluded - the woman and the child.
These three perspectives don’t allow for a homologous form in the play. Keff employs the style of the great ancient texts (such as Greek tragedy and biblical style) and blends it with contemporary cultural discourse, drawing on Art Spiegelman’s Maus, as well as Lara Croft and Ridley Scott’s movie Alien.
In Klata's play, Usia, the daughter, represents the next generation of less-obvious victims of the war’s transformations. She had not left her family and the city of Lviv wearing just one summer dress and carrying all of her belongings in one suitcase. Usia didn’t experience concentrations camps. But she cannot break free from her roots and cannot leave her mother. Faced with the grandeur of history, she experiences an intimate, little-huge drama of her own. She defends herself from her mother’s reproaches and lamentations. She refuses to take on the suffering, pain and disenchantement that are not her own.
Usia courageously attempts to fight for her own place and word her own problems and to feel, at least once, that she is the "beloved little daughter" and a part of history, as well as family.
Jacek Wakar of Przekrój magazine gave the play a very favorable review. He recognised the director’s ability to take on a feminine perspective, claiming “Never before has Jan Klata taken a side so firmly. He directed as if he were a woman himself.” Commenting on the musicality of the piece, Wakar wrote:
If A Piece on Mother and the Fatherland has been called an oratorio, the Wrocław version is a deliberately messed-up oratorio. The job of destruction was done by Paulina Chapko, Dominika Figurska, Anna llczuk, Kinga Preis and Halina Rasiakówna, who nonchalantly demolished our idea of Matka-Polka (the archetypal Polish mother). Yet when they lay down the crowbar, they play, dance and sing in such a way that lyricism, even poignancy, sometimes peek from beneath the laughter. (...)
In her review for Gazeta Wyborcza, Joanna Derkaczew stated:
The performance bears numerous traits of a psychotherapeutic scheme. The triggering of anger, an attempt at seeing your own self as a child who desires warmth, care and a sense of safety. But in Klata’s performance it isn’t the therapy session of one Jewish girl, but of each person who bears the weight of other people’s traumas, whether familial or national in nature.
The performance has toured extensively since 2011, with Polish showings in Łódź, Szczecin, Kalisz, Gdańsk, Zabrze, Kraków, Warsaw and Toruń, and international showings in Slovenia, Croatia, Russia and Switzerland. It has garnered festival awards, and in 2013 the production travels to the International Theatre Festival in Sibiu, Romania, as part of the Focus Polska programme coordinated by the Adam Mickiewicz Institute
A Piece on Mother and the Fatherland
Written by Bożena Keff
Directed and adapted for the stage by Jan Klata
Music by Jan Klata
Set design and light direction by Justyna Łagowska
Costumes by Justyna Łagowska and Mateusz Stępniak
Choreography by Maćko Prusak
Phonosphere Magdalena Śniadecka
Cast: Paulina Chapko, Dominika Figurska/Katarzyna Strączek, Anna llczuk, Kinga Preis, Halina Rasiakówna and Wojciech Ziemiański
Author: Paulina Schlosser, source: http://www.teatrpolski.wroc.pl, press release, own material, 6.06.2013
Thumbail credits: Natalia Kabanow photography for Teatr Polski in Wrocław