The long-awaited premiere of Dybbuk by Maja Kleczewska and Łukasz Chotkowski opened the jubilee season at the Warsaw Jewish Theatre. The authors broadened Szymon An-ski’s play about the history of the ghetto's inhabitants, as well as the victims and survivors of the Holocaust.
An-ski’s Dybbuk directed by Dawid Herman from the Vilnius Troupe was first staged in the year 1920 in the Elizeum Theatre in Warsaw. It was later presented in New York, Vienna, Berlin, Tel-Aviv, Moscow and Paris, among others. In post-war Poland Dybbuk was taken up by Andrzej Wajda, Agnieszka Holland and Krzysztof Warlikowski, who poignantly juxtaposed the Yiddish drama with a contemporary text by Hanna Krall. The play has been repeatedly performed on the stage of the Jewish Theatre under the direction of Szymon Szurmiej, and yet Gołda Tencer was convinced that Dybbuk was best suited to inaugurate the 65th anniversary of the institution.
After all this work belongs to the great classics of Jewish literature. I am also personally fond of Dybbuk, as I once played Leah, a role which young actresses dream about.
– admits the director of the Jewish Theatre in an interview with Wiesław Kowalski.
‘The first rehearsals involved recreating Dybbuk from scratch’, explains Kleczewska on the portal teatrdlawas.pl. ‘We draw from the experience and memories of actors, from the record they carry. We read Dybbuk from a contemporary perspective, we try to understand what the story means to us today. In fact, at first glance the text seems impossible to work with, due to the simple fact that this world no longer exists. Which shtetl can we refer to nowadays? Which reality?’, the director asks.
Dybbuk is said to be the Yiddish Romeo and Juliet, a folk legend about the soul of a deceased yeshiva student, incarnated in the body of his beloved. The director Maja Kleczewska, known for her bold interpretations of Elfriede Jelinek’s prose, and the playwright Łukasz Chotkowski, with whom she has worked for years, gave the play a broader meaning, transforming the traditional Jewish drama in a story about the broken covenant between nations and recurring memory. And all this in the space of the theatre built in the heart of the pre-war Jewish neighbourhood and the former Warsaw Ghetto.
Maja Kleczewska admitted that she visited Auschwitz prior to the rehearsals.
During this trip we realised that we – people – are yet to give a proper name to this experience. Neither psychology, nor sociology, nor philosophy have reached to the core of the Holocaust. The Holocaust meant suspension of laws and rules, the condition we fear the most. And despite the enormous amount of studies and research this still eludes analysis. Logical narrative is lost. There is a blind spot after which we cease to understand.
– said the director in an interview with Izabela Szymańska from Gazeta Wyborcza.
‘A new opening at the Jewish Theatre. One of the best plays by Kleczewska’
– commented Witold Mrozek in the pages of Gazeta Wyborcza, appreciating not only the performances of the actors:
The eclectic, generous show is an attempt to take part in the dispute about what it means today to be a public theatre bearing the name Jewish, one of two in Europe. (...) Magdalena Koleśnik’s acting in the role of Leah, the bride possessed by a dybbuk, is a success. She has taken something from the stars of silent cinema and today’s horror films, and there is also a trace of Gollum from Tolkien’s Hollywood adaptation. Koleśnik is alternately naughty, spontaneously natural and ironically distanced. At the same time she does not allow herself to indulge in exalted stage madness, she does not overact, remaining very conscious of her presence on the stage.
Tomasz Miłkowski in turn noted on www.aict.art.pl that Dybbuk is primarily a story about the history of the Jewish Theatre:
This is an acutely intelligent performance, revealing the artistic potential of the Jewish Theatre, confirming the crucial importance of its mission, a theatre open to the new generations and to adopting a new dramatic language. A great achievement of the actors and the theatre, a touching meeting of generations. The presence of the three Leahs: Gołda Tencer and Joanna Przybyłowska, who have been playing this role for years, and the debuting Magdalena Koleśnik was immeasurably powerful, and the element of distance and humour (the excellent role of Henry Rajzer) protected the spectacle against martyrological rhetoric. In no way does this diminish the strength of the victims’ testimonies, invoked without emotion, or the parable of the stone central to the play.
Sources: teatrdlawas.pl, Gazeta Wyborcza, http://www.aict.art.pl/, press materials, ed. AL, transl. Bozhana Nikolova, April 2015