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A CurtainUp Review
by Liza Zapol
I have heard great things about recent Polish theatre, including that of the Theatre Wierszalin. Rigorous and intense, Polish theatre is incredibly demanding of both the actor and the audience, carrying the legacy of Grotowski's Poor Theatre (partly the subject of the Wooster Theatre's eponymous production). A contemporary company, The Song of the Goat, has toured throughout America and Europe, and non-Polish actors travel to Poland to train in their physically and vocally demanding school of theatre. With such a pedigree, I had high hopes for Saint Oedipus, and the play did begin very promisingly.
The story is from the medieval folk tale version of Oedipus, which varies from the Greek Oedipus significantly. This version is about a boy who is the product of the incest between siblings (Jocasta and her brother). He is raised by the church and then meets and consummates a relationship with a woman who he discovers to be his mother, Jocasta. He serves penance on an island and, having cleansed himself of his sins, is then chosen to become pope.
The performance begins compellingly. A young man, who later plays Oedipus (Rafal Gasowski), emerges in front of a bamboo curtain and sits in a chair next to a bald, hanging lightbulb. He is wearing formal clothing and perfoms in a distinctly Brechtian style. His rigid movements and dark eyes reminded me of a puppet. He is strange and otherworldly and mysterious which is magnified by the fact that he is speaking in Polish.
When a woman emerges (Edyta Lukaszewicz- Lisowska), also speaking Polish and wearing formal clothing, we are prepared for the beginning of an interesting event. The actors move upstage, speaking in broken English, behind the translucent bamboo, and begin taking off their clothing to reveal leathers: S & M chaps, g-strings and flaps which are to be the actors' costume for most of the play.
Unfortunately, the play then degenerates into something so pretentious and graphic that it is simultaneously funny and dreadful. If one were to give the actors and the director, Piotr Tomaszuk, the benefit of the doubt, this may be due to several factors. The translation of the play (if not the play itself) is repetitive and unambitious, and the actors are not speaking in their native language. Several words are somewhat unintelligible, including the yoking together and frequently moaning "God" and "goat." The La Mama First Floor space is narrow and limiting to the huge emoting onstage, like the costumes which reveal too much and leave nothing to the imagination.
The actors have some fine, skillful moments that reveal heir tradition. Edyta Lukaszewicz- Lisowska's is very talented in her mask work and is often compelling in portraying the old Priest, a goddess puppet, and an old woman on the island of Penance. The masks are beautifu, and her body transforms completely into the characters. Both she and Gasowski have immense physical and vocal energy that more than fills the theatre.
The physical nature of this piece is compelling and driving but Saint Oedipus is, for the most part, over-explicit and unimaginative and it's hard to be provoked by the writhing actors. Given the high regard with which this company is held in its homeland, perhaps too much of the play was lost in translation.
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