Archive for Boska Komedia

Underground

Posted in Poland with tags , , on December 8, 2010 by Louise Steinman

What I love about attending an international festival like Boska Komedia here in Krakow is the way one slip-slides into intense social encounters (slip-sliding is on my mind as I navigate the slick cobblestones in Old Town each morning) Last night i exited a Polish play that had no English translation and, at the coat check, met another Boska Komedia attendee who’d done the same. We decided on the spot to have dinner together and walked over to Klezmer Hois in Kazimierz for supper and thus I found myself in a faux-Jewish restaurant sharing fragrant ginger/orange chicken and kasha and a carafe of good red wine with Iulia, a delightful Rumanian theater critic from Bucharest wearing bright green boots. We were later joined by Alan, an insightful theater critic from Brooklyn (with an insatiable curiosity about Polish theater and Polish history) and Felix, an affable theater director from Dusseldorf who was very happy to be digging into some Hungarian goulash after several days of non-stop theater-viewing and not-enough calorie intake for this freezing weather. Julia from Bucharest told me about her intense fear of cold from her childhood days under Ceausescu when there was not enough heat and hardly any light. Her father helped jury-rig woodstoves for their block of apartments, procured illicitly from old flats that Ceausescu was demolishing in the city center.

This morning I had a guided tour of underground Krakow (the new archeological museum under the medieval Cloth Hall) from a young Israeli theater director of Yemeni descent who’s lived in Krakow for 10 years. Avishai (Awiszaj Hadari) fell in love with the work of theater artistTadeusz Kantor while at art school in Tel Aviv, and decamped for Poland. The great film director Andrzej Wajda (also the subject of a hilarious spoof called “There was once Andrzej Andrzej Andrzej and Andrzej” just performed here the other night) wrote a letter in support of Avishai’s application for Polish citizenship. (No one in the government was quite sure how to react to such a request… so an exception was made thanks to Avishai’s contributions to Polish culture.) Today was the day that Avishai actually received his Polish passport, so we decamped to Gulliver cafe to celebrate.

(a few years ago I’d considered applying for a Polish passport as two of my grandparents were Polish, but as it turns out– Poland didn’t exist when they emigrated in 1906, and there was no possibility or much sense in applying for a passport as a citizen of Czarist Russia…

and to confuse you, here is a photo of my grandmother Rebecca when she travelled with her two children from Zhitomir to the States in the early 20’s…)

Rebecca Steinman's passport (with son Norman and daughter Ruth), 1921

Avishai’s installation in the underground museum is a theatrical display (enhanced by extraordinary animatronics and robotics) that tells of the founding of Cracow. The narrator is a white crow, voiced by one of filmmaker Kieslowski’s most famous actors, Jerzy Trela. Unfortunately for us, the sound was not working this morning due to a computer glitch in the museum’s mega-computer, situated at an even deeper level beneath the stone fortifications and weighing scales of Cracow– new technology trumps the transmission of ancient history.

The Odyssey

Posted in Poland with tags , , on December 4, 2010 by Louise Steinman

I brought the perfect traveling companion with me to Krakow… “The Glatstein Chronicles” by Jacob Glatstein. Written when Glatstein (one of the foremost Yiddish poets of his day) was summoned home from New York to Lublin, Poland, to the bedside of his sick mother. He traveled on a trans-Atlantic steamer, writing “the ship seemed to be carrying me back to my childhood, as though we were sailing back in time.” It’s a journey in reverse, the immigrant returning to the Old Country.

My seat companion on Lufthansa from LA to Munich was a pale young man with dark hair who told me he was very tired, and would i wake him up when dinner was served? Later I learned he was traveling to Sofia, Bulgaria, to the bedside of his sick mother. A journey of return.

Now, after one full day in Krakow, sliding across the Rynek on slick cobblestones, snow-flocked plane trees on the Planty, warm welcome from fellow Boska Komedia attendees from Warsaw, Moscow, Paris, Bogota, San Francisco, Tel Aviv, Dusseldorf and more. Tonight saw a fantastic production based on Homer’s “The Odyssey,” by a 27 year-old Krakovian theater star (Kryzysztof Garbazewski)_ which incorporated the best use of Jim Morrison’s epic song “The End” (Father, I want to KILLLLL YOU”) since I heard the Doors live at Beverly Hills High School in 1968. I was so moved, and so many of the themes of dread, journey, return, survival– that are on my mind– were given such a resonant treatment in this story of Telemachus, the son, whose father is the absent hero. (“let us speak of Odysseus’ absence.”) Telemachus was played by a wiry young actor who was the wild young son personified, horrified, vilified, and ultimately, vindicated. Penelope was played by three women of three different generations, and a beautiful silver-haired actress delivered the final monologue about her long vigil, her husband’s return. And in the final scene, Odysseus poses the basic question all storytellers must ask of those who journey out into the unknown, “Tell me, how was it?” We want to know what you endured, how you survived. That’s the question I asked Berek Ofman, who was hidden under the floorboards of a widow’s farmhouse in Radomsko, the question I asked Ester Wilhelm, who was three when the war started (her father’s mistress in Czestochowa pretended Ester was her own daughter). And Max Blitz, my friend’s father, survived because he stowed away on the back of a wagon headed towards the Russian border.

This play snapped me back from the brink of jet lag crash. But it’s finally happening, to bed to bed, to return to return.

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