In Capri, Lupa is a demiurge who cannot be separated from his work. He comments on, adds to, and sometimes interferes with his actors and actresses, leaving a strong authorial mark on the performance, which is itself a story about the need for having a home and the absurdity of suffering.
Curzio Malaparte, author of the documentary novels Kaputt and The Skin which were the basis for the script of Capri – the Island of Fugitives, wrote in his preface to Kaputt that the war was merely a secondary character in his book (‘I would say that it appears not as an active character, but as a spectator’). The same is true of Lupa’s play, in which war is an eternal spectre that reveals on the one hand the abominations of the human mind and spirit, and on the other the inalienable needs and desires. For if war does not kill, it deprives one of one’s home. It eradicates. Capri is a longing cry for a home – one in which we could all feel safe and, at last, free. All of us, which also (or rather: first of all) includes those who were always treated as marginal entities by history – here understood as the history of wars. All of us: women, homosexuals and animals. Male and female members of minorities, victims of high ambitions and objects of contempt.
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This desire to set anchor somewhere on the mainland is overwhelming in Lupa’s work. The performance opens with the last scene of Jean-Luc Godard’s Contempt, shot on the roof of Casa Malaparte, the modernist villa which the author of Kaputt designed as his island refuge with a view of the vastness of the sea. Contempt is a self-referential work in which the famous German director Fritz Lang (who plays Godard himself) is working on an adaptation of Homer’s Odyssey. In the film’s final scene, we see Ulysses facing the sea and, according to Lang, greeting Ithaca after their long separation. But the close-up only shows us an empty, bright horizon. No land can be seen.
A sense of unbelonging hovers over Casa Malaparte as prepared by Lupa: it is here that Fritz Lang, Jean-Luc Godard, Brigitte Bardot, and the Italian author himself meet. There are also many other characters here who cannot be named because this time the director focused on the interchangeability and ambiguity of roles. ‘A person is an illusion,’ we hear from the stage at one point. And so, Malaparte is played by Julian Świeżewski at one time and by Grzegorz Artman at other times. The figure of history and the fate of war come to the fore in Capri, not the identity of the stage creations.
Casa Malaparte is more like a prison than an asylum. The large bright windows overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea look flat and unreal, time and again turning into a field of video projection. Everybody is hungry, nobody knows what time it is. The situation arranged by Lupa brings to mind his other performances, in which individuals who are tired, marginalised or incompatible with the social model are concentrated in one, enclosed place – as was the case in Waiting Room or City of Dreams. However, this time this incompatibility also affects another level – the level of co-existence. Those on the stage, on the boundary between their character and their semi-private condition, are also alien to each other. It is difficult to determine why everyone is here, who their common foe is, and where they are going (if anywhere at all). Several people often speak at the same time without listening to each other, creating an incomprehensible murmur.
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But Lupa creates more than a peculiar hermitage whose inhabitants are plunged into hopelessness and senselessness. In a moment we also move to Wawel Castle and Brühl Palace, where Curzio Malaparte, a diplomat and correspondent working for Corriere della Sera met with Governor Hans Frank and Ludwig Fischer, the man directly responsible for the creation of the Warsaw Ghetto. These scenes – extensive adaptions of the fact-based dialogues from Kaputt – ruthlessly expose the essence of wars. Armed conflict is a nightmarish game unleashed by people who remain safe and sated, sitting in luxuriant interiors and wearing elegant shoes. War is a horrendous result of ridiculous ambition and a cruel game played by privileged men. Lupa’s show ruthlessly demonstrates this fact. ‘Winning a war is a shame’, we hear from the stage several times. This line is delivered by, among others, the most unusual figure in the bizarre commune – the spirit of Malaparte, played by Piotr Skiba. He is the narrator, commentator and participant at the same time, a tired phantom on the verge of life and death that haunts Casa Malaparte. He also haunts the play itself, by moving outside of the famous red, rectangular ring which, in Lupa’s work, signifies the boundary of the spectacle. Winning a war is a shame, because war is a failure in its very essence, regardless of who and whose rationale is on which side.
‘Kaputt is a cruel book’, Malaparte wrote in his foreword to the novel. Is Lupa’s play equally cruel? It seems like it could be terser. With today’s media dynamics, there is no need to wonder if and when war will come. It goes on: in Rojava, in the north-east of Syria, a brutal attack by Turkish troops is underway and Kurdish civilians, including women and children, are being killed. There is already talk of genocide. This is some of the latest news about war, which the media have been reporting for almost a fortnight. Other armed conflicts are less present in Facebook feeds but are still ongoing. Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, Congo. For nearly six years there has been a war going on behind our eastern border. Meanwhile, in the centre of Europe, we are considering the threat of another bloody clash. Lupa’s gaze is a Eurocentric gaze, thrown from a secure position, limiting the world to a few countries of the Old Continent – countries with high capital and knowledge resources. It is as if other wars do not concern us at all. It is a pity that for the almost six hours of the performance, no opinion was expressed on the ongoing clashes in the world, in which thousands of innocent victims – civilians, women, children and animals – have died. It is a pity, as there was room for it in Capri – there were references to contemporary phenomena, Jarosław Kaczyński’s name was mentioned, the European Union was referred to, and – as usual in Lupa’s theatre – there was some space for improvisation. However, the perspective was narrowed down to our privileged backyard. The only moment which looks beyond its frames is the background video showing a city ruined by war – probably the devastated streets of Aleppo.
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The present day is undoubtedly a source of anxiety for Lupa. It is understandable and common. After all, nationalist and xenophobic sentiments in Europe are growing stronger. Gloomy images from the equality marches organised in Poland bring to mind the atmosphere of pogroms. The leader of the ruling party in our country officially defines a family as a ‘permanent union of one woman and one man and their own children’. How is a person who does not fit this image supposed to feel in such a reality? The director does not escape into apocalyptic theatrical narratives, although in his interviews he often emphasises the anxiety connected with contemporary times. Instead, he creates space to stage the Figliata dei Femminielli ceremony, a former Neapolitan fertility ritual in which femminiello, a homosexual man in a feminised costume, acts out the scene of childbirth. Malaparte described the figliata in The Skin, a book portraying the ruined Naples in the last years of the war. Lupa depicts the ritual in accordance with the novel. A man, accompanied by other men crazy with emotions, gives birth to a wooden homunculus with a monstrous penis, and the scene ends with an orgy. The director shows the queer community with momentum and extraordinary, wild energy.
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Scene from 'Capri - the Island of Fugitives' directed by Krystian Lupa, 2019, photo: Natalia Kabanow/Powszechny Theatre in Warszaw
Malaparte bravely proclaimed that the emptiness left by war is an opportunity. He saw a kind of radical ‘regulation through crisis’ in the armed nightmare – its finality and ruthlessness might create space for a fresh start. The Italian writer finished writing his reportage-novel while he was on Capri, in 1943. Today we know that no new miraculous structure has been created, the idea of the European Union is undergoing a serious crisis, and 80 years after the outbreak of World War II, the elections to the European Parliament in three countries (including France, the country of the Enlightenment-era philosophers) are being won by parties with extreme right-wing views. However, Lupa, despite his fear – as Malaparte did over 70 years ago – looks at reality with hope. This time the commune in Lupa’s play is an internally broken gathering, though it seems to be reconciled with reality. And, what is important, it is aware of its longings and speaks directly about them. ‘Perhaps somewhere there is a house that will become my home’, says Ewa Skibińska in the last act.
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capri - the Island of Fugitives
The sea – a view of which ends Godard’s film and commences Lupa’s play – might be a ruthless and dangerous vacuum, but it may also be a metaphor for possibilities. After all, an empty horizon is an illusion. Perhaps Ulysses in Godard’s film was not amused at all in his joy at the sight of the sea – perhaps he was, as Lupa likes to say, a dreamer. The question of the sense of suffering brought about by military conflict – or rather, its senselessness – is no less important in Capri. Apart from hope, the play brings the shocking observation that millions of war victims have not taught us anything and cannot teach us anything as long as the patriarchy prevails. Thus, Lupa presents history as cruel nonsense and man as an ‘animal of death’.
Originally written in Polish by Marcelina Obarska, translated into English by P. Grabowski, December 2019