Category Archives: The Madman and The Nun

Witkacy a provocative experimentalist

“Witkacy is by birth, by race, to the very marrow of his bones an artist. He lives exclusively by and for art.  And his relationship to art is profoundly dramatic; he is one of those tormented spirits who in art seek the solution not to problems of success, but to the problem of their own being.”   – Tadeusz Boy Zelenski (1921)

As I am looking at Witkacy today, I see many different things I have not seen when I was introduced to him in my early high school years.  He always fascinated all of us young adults with his craziness and willingness to challenge himself and others with everything he has done in life.  For a long time forgotten and misunderstood by many in the communist and post-communist Poland, now rediscovered again as a precursor of the absurd theater with a bit of surrealism at its core.

To these days I remember his provocative pictures in which he disguised himself using his facial expressions mostly done under the use of alcohol and drugs. I could not get through his novels, his plays were rarely done at that time.  Finally, when I got my acting diploma I had the privilege to work with one of the directors, Wanda Laskowska, who rediscovered Witkacy as a dramatist and directed “Shoemakers.”   Working with her gave me an opportunity to look at Witkacy at a different angle and understand better his ideas and the style.

The Madman and the Nun: Cast and Crew

Cast and Crew


John Stange ….. Alexander Walpurg
Jenny Donovan ….. Sister Anna
Mary Suib ….. Sister Barbara
Ivan Zizek ….. Dr. Jan Bidello
David Berkenbilt ….. Dr. Ephraim Grun
Ray Converse ….. Professor Ernest Walldorff
Jen Bevan….. Attendant
James Randle ….. Attendant


Directed by: Hanna Bondarewska
Assistant Director: James Randle
Stage Manager: Adam Adkins
Set Design by Daniel Pinha
Costume Design by Jen Bevan
Lights by: Marianne Meadows
Sound and Visual by: David Crandall


by Stanisław Witkiewicz AKA Witkacy
Previews November 29-30, 2011
Shows December 1-18, 2011
Thursdays – Saturdays at 8:00 PM and Sundays at 7:30PM
Matinees Sat & Sun at 2:00 PM
FLASHPOINT: Mead Theatre Lab



Read our raving reviews at Newsroom

“In the anthill civilization which is coming individualism will be limited like a man in a strait jacket . . . True artists . . . will be kept in special institutions for the incurably sick and will be, as vestigial specimens of former humanity, the subject of research by psychiatrists.” , New Forms in Painting, 1918.

Written in 1923 and first staged in 1924, The Madman and the Nun is one of Witkacy’s most widely performed dramas. Dedicated to “all the madmen of the world,” the play takes as its theme the tyranny of society over the individual. The author himself felt threatened by insanity–an expression of rebellious individuality–and the play may be considered an ironic portrait of the artist.
In The Madman and the Nun (the title of one of Witkacy’s paintings exhibited in 1921), the creative personality becomes victim of cultural repression when science and state, abetted by religion, form a totalitarian alliance to bring about enforced happiness and social tranquility through psychiatric confinement. Witkacy’s decadent poet and drug addict, Walpurg, exemplifies the destiny of exceptional beings who are locked in padded cells and trapped in ever-widening circles of incarceration by body, family, and society.
The Freudian psychiatrist Grün hopes to cure Walpurg by rendering him normal and restoring him to society lobotomized of the madness that constitutes his genius. The fettered poet (whose consciousness alone is free} and the psychic healer prying into the recesses of his brain are a complementary pair. Grün is both the observing self, voyeuristically watching the instinctual behavior of his alter ego, and the controlling self attempting to curb the explosive creative energy of his double. The doctor alternately provides Walpurg with paper and pencil—tools of creation—and binds his arms in a strait jacket, encouraging his art and yet restricting it. Grün reduces psychoanalysis to a mechanistic system for fabricating puppets ready for the anthill society.
As the only way out of imprisonment, Walpurg seduces his nurse (the beautiful Sister Anna), murders one of his doctors, and hangs himself. Here Witkacy introduces a spectacular coup de theatre that cancels the seemingly inevitable tragic ending. Stepping over his own corpse lying on the floor, the handsome young Walpurg—an elegantly dressed dandy—enters the cell, bids farewell to his keepers, who are now locked up as insane, and goes off to town with Anna. Witkiewicz’s favored device of the risen corpse violates the laws of both nature and conventional dramatic logic; the play subverts its own premises and calls into question the entire rational world that constructs madhouses.
Walpurg’s feat of dissociation–splitting in two and leaving behind his outer shell–is deeply ambiguous. Has the poet created a new form for himself or merely accepted society’s validation of a stereotype? Are his suicide and escape a triumph of mind over matter or a step backward on the treadmill of Eternal Recurrence, repeating the same punitive story?
Pure Form (the modality of the final act) can allow for multiple endings and accommodate contradictory meanings. In the double denouement of The Madman and the Nun Witkacy, incorporating Heisenberg’s principle of complementarity and Bohr’s uncertainty principle, plays bold theatrical tricks on the audience in order to dispose of the dead conventions of stage realism along with Walpurg’s dead body. Witkacy’s protest against psychiatric confinement anticipates strategies of the post-1968 avant-garde: creative madness, anarchic violence, liberating sexuality, and emancipation through dreams.

Daniel Gerould