18 edycja 18 edycja 18 edycja konfrontacje teatralne

A myth undergoes a test – Polish political-social theatre from the German perspective

If one looks at the landscape of the German theatre from the Polish perspective, it is hard not to notice the almost omni-present call for changes in the society. This season’s “Enemy of the People” production series in Berlin and Brandenburg or the Gorki-Theater’s current “Aufstand Proben” (“Uprising attempts”) are aiming at political and social issues. The idea of a revolution or an “upcoming uprising” is gaining considerable popularity.
In Poland, the issue of social change is gradually being directed at the past much more than at the future. Polish theatre authors are increasingly focused on the revolutionary situation that began over 30 years ago with the rise of the “Solidarity”. How was it really? What is legend? The myth of Solidarity is being examined and what is interesting  is that it is happening in theatres outside of Warsaw which is normally consideredthe trendsetter.
The mighty women of Solidarity
It is worth mentioning at the start the new feminist interpretations of Solidarity’s history in such plays as If Not Now Then When, if not Us Then Who? [Jak nie teraz to kiedy, jak nie my to kto?] by Małgorzata Głuchowska in Kraków or Understanding H. by Paweł Palcat in Legnica. They pose the question: Where exactly are the female Solidarity  activists mentioned?
The name of Anna Walentynowicz does not remain wholly unknown (even if in Poland almost no attention has been paid to Strike by Volker Schlöndorff, a film which tells the woman’s story). In recent years public opinion, if it is aware of Walentynowicz’s existence at all, is as “the one who has something against Lech Wałęsa.” Is there anyone who still remembers that the fact that Walentynowicz, a crane operator was made redundant was one of the major causes of the strike in the Gdańsk shipyard?
Things are very different in the case of Henryka Krzywonos. In August of 1980 she was working as a tram driver and on hearing of the strike in the Gdańsk shipyard she was the first to stop her tram, which marked the beginning of a solidarity strike of the Gdańsk public transport workers, which in turn gave way to strikes in numerous other workplaces in the city. Shortly afterwards four women: Henryka Krzywonos, Anna Walentynowicz, Alina Piekarska and Ewa Ossowska dissuaded the shipyard workers from agreeing to the promise of a pay raise and a premature finishing of the strike. In turn, they persuaded them to sympathize with all those on strike in the city – in this way protecting them from the authorities’ repressions. Solidarity became a common movement, gradually firing up the whole country.
Female activists with no memorial plaque
Where are the monuments to honour those women? Where are they as role models and characters for identification? These types of questions are asked in the Kraków production of If Not Now Then When, If Not Us Then Who? directed by Małgorzata Głuchowska and written by Justyna Lipko-Konieczna. It’s a journey that makes us think about Alice in Wonderland – a young Polish woman named Lamia goes back in time into the past of her home country; with a lot of emphasis on the times of Solidarity. Lamia meets Anna Walentynowicz and Henryka Krzywonos, and listens to their stories of the events of the 1980s. In the background there’s Lech Wałęsa jeering at their restrained depiction of events – as their story is far from the tales of pathos and heroism, which seems the only proper way to be represented in the historiography for “Lech” and his hegemony of men. The more you gloat, the bigger will be your reward while the modest will soon be forgotten.  The criticism of this approach to history, which narrows the events in the stories told by the later-to-become movement leaders is clearly audible in the piece.
In a similar way Paweł Palcat in Legnica shows the mighty women of Solidarity in the play Understanding H. [Zrozumieć H.]. The main theme of the production is the life of Henryka Krzywonos and her achievements and merit in the formation of the trade unions. But the director is interested in yet another thing. In the late 80′s Krzywonos withdrew from underground activities due to private reasons. She and her second husband founded a private orphanage. Henryka did not want to passively continue watching the most vulnerable of society left to the mercy of circumstances.
Like in a kaleidoscope, in short scenes, without pathos and with a minimalistic use of means the piece also shows how an unexpected inheritance from Canada is donated for the care of the orphans and how difficult it is for a woman suffering from cancer to look after children. The figure of Henryka K. is performed by three actresses. Asked about his intentions the young director talks about his longing for common solidarity, which Henryka’s life brimmed with, and how jealous he is not to have the possibility to live in times that required such sacrifices.
Danuta Wałęsa celebrates her housewife status
Not every production with strong female characters has to immediately leave scratches on the myth of Solidarity – this is clearly proven by the monodrama Danuta W., created in a cooperation between theaters from Warsaw and Gdańsk. The play shows the events that took place thirty years ago based on the autobiography Dreams and Secrets [Marzenia i tajemnice] by Danuta Wałęsa, the wife of Solidarity leader Lech Wałęsa who was later to become President of Poland. Again, this is a point of view of a woman who lived through the times of transition as a housewife and had to look after her nine member family, while her husband was a “fighter for the cause.”
With Krystyna Janda in the leading role – an actress who starred in numerous movies by Andrzej Wajda – the play was a major media event long before its premiere. It was surely a delight for those who longed to be reassured that at that time women were mainly supporting their men while remaining in the shadow of the historical warriors’ glory. However, the younger generations criticized the production as a tool in the recent process of narrowing the historical perspective. Many critics had already rejected the bestselling book by Mrs Wałęsa as kitchen philosophy chatter.
Julia Holewińska criticizes the generation of the transition
A truly fresh perspective on the world of her parents is presented by Julia Holewińska in her Balloon Revolution [Balonowa rewolucja] which premiered in Warsaw. The author does not focus on the leading figures of the movement, but on the wave of passive participants in the Solidarity movement, who were to fall into the traps of commercialism very soon after the political transformation. “Was it all just to have better televisions and cars, not for freedom?”- ask the children and their parents must endure a heavy reckoning. Today, just as in the past, they leave living the life of democracy to others.
In the text Foreign Bodies, [Ciała obce] which was presented at the Berlin festival Theatertreffen Stückemarkt 2012, a year before it won an important Gdynia Dramatic Award, Holewińska attacks the intolerance prevailing among the Solidarity generation. The preview performance directed in Gdańsk by Kuba Kowalski, is based on the story of an extraordinary individual.
The main character is one of the activists in the Warsaw Solidarity unit. After the change of the system he undergoes a sex-change operation. In the now politically free country he strives for achieving personal freedom. However, his companions leave him and even his closest friends from the former underground movement erase his opus magna from their minds.
On a stage dominated by a double helix of DNA in the colours of the Polish national flag we see alternately appearing scenes from the past and the present. Marek Tynda, starring interchangeably as Adam and as Eve persuasively shows that his character remains a foreign body – both in the Poland of the old, where everything was based on religion and fighting for freedom, as well as in today’s reality, which is marked by grotesque features. The show is a strong statement against exclusion based on gender or liberal approach to life.
The inner incoherencies
Therefore, the new productions are not only about widening the horizons of the history of Solidarity, but also about pinpointing the tensions and contradictions within it. The resistance movement’s own internal issues are also discussed, presented by Krzysztof Konopka’s Orchestra in Legnica directed by Jacek Głomb. It’s a great portrait of the opposition movement outside of the main cities.
What is clearly shown here is the fact that apart from the front line conflicts between the communists and the opposition, there were also animosities within the resistance groups. It is illustrated by the dramatic story of a miner who chose to change sides after his son had been killed by ZOMO during an illegal demonstration in 1982. The father argues that it is not the communists, but his own people who are to blame for the tragedy.
In a straightforward manner the piece tells a story of a copper mine orchestra from Lubin (Lower Silesia) and shows its members in the past and up to the present, when the mine is privatized, and the notion of solidarity disappears. The show is played site specific at the scene of the events – in the closed part of the mine.
The opposition movement in competition with Solidarity is presented by the Gdańsk production of The Case of Operational Identification (Sprawa operacyjnego rozpoznania) by Zbigniew Brzoza. Freedom and Peace’s methods of dealing with the authorities were very different from those of Solidarity. Pursuing a policy of open resistance, the movement organized open hunger strikes, blockades, and demonstrations reduced to absurd gestures or actions such as returning military books as a revolt against compulsory military service. Part of the activist tactics used by Freedom and Peace were adapted by other groups after the political transformation.
A collage staged by a veteran of this movement, oscillating between theater, documentary, multimedia performance and a thoroughly practiced, minimalist and reconstructed happening, that brightly illuminates the nooks and crannies of the collective memory whose main focus in on Solidarity. The show is also an attempt to find a contemporary theatre language for the issues of the history and culture of rebellion in our democratic present.
Outside of the memorial care zone
The memories of the revolution of 30 years ago now give way to a rather livelier, multidimensional memory work. This is impressively illustrated in Popiełuszko, written by Małgorzata Sikorska-Miszczuk on a basis of extensive research. The piece was honored at the Gdynia Drama Award in 2012, with the original production directed by Paweł Łysak in Bydgoszcz (picture).
Sikorska-Miszczuk courageously faces the complex issues surrounding one of the biggest, still unresolved tragedies of those turbulent times. She depicts the story of the murder of the Catholic priest Jerzy Popiełuszko, who supported the activities of the Solidarity underground and was murdered by agents of the SB the Polish communist internal intelligence agency, the Polish equivalent of the East German Stasi. Numerous facts of the case have remained unresolved to this day, including the role of the Catholic Church. Sikorska-Miszczuk comes close to crossing the line, she provokes, and conjures her own independent visions of the last hours of the priest’s life and manages to create a powerful image of this important figure of the opposition movement.
There are numerous grotesque scenes where the past and the present are mixed thatstrip the action of gravity and pathos: the kidnapped priest, laying  in the trunk of the car of the security police continuously encounters the “Anti-Pole” who is listening to Radio Maryja, while his wife struggles in vain with modern kitchen appliances. These are visions of a Dadaist density, which Sikorska-Miszczuk often uses in her pieces.
Various and often conflicting points of view and political attitudes are added to the narration. As a result, Sikorska-Miszczuk manages to assemble on the front lines the  Catholics and non-believers, the supporters of Solidarity and the socialists, and the Pro-Polish and Pro-European movements and show how these interact. This impressive piece, with all its Polish specifics, poses a universal question of the nature of freedom and its value in the life of an individual or a society as a whole. It does not build a marble monument in a city park, but a pulsating historical consciousness instead.


Iwona Uberman