Tag Archives: ATICC

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Housewives Get Desperate in Dario Fo’s They Don’t Pay, We Won’t Pay by Eliza Anna Falk

“Our homeland is the whole world.                             Dario Fo

Our law is liberty. We have but one thought,

Revolution in our hearts” – Dario Fo                                                                                                                                

If Dario Fo were to cast a vote in the forthcoming US presidential election his choice no doubt would lie with the socialist democrat Bernie Sanders, the only candidate openly calling for a political revolution. When interviewed by the British Guardian in 1997 after receiving a Nobel Prize for Literature, Fo said that he had been born politicized, and culturally had always been part of the proletariat: “I lived side by side with the sons of glass blowers, fishermen and smugglers. The stories they told were satires about the hypocrisy of authority and the middle classes, the two-facedness of teachers and lawyers and politicians.” (Bohlen).

they_dont_pay640x480 (2)The playwright became the voice of the Italian working class in the 1960s and 70s when his fellow citizens seethed with resentment towards their incompetent governments. It was during the 1970s that he wrote his most popular farces: Accidental Death of an Anarchist (which made him one of the most produced playwrights in 20th century Europe) and They Don’t Pay, We Won’t Pay, encouraging the oppressed to take direct action when authority fails to protect them. The play, brought to DC by the Ambassador theatre in partnership with the Italian Cultural Institute and co-directed by Joe Martin and Danny Rovin, has been played in over 40 countries and revised by the author several times to suit the changing times.  

Its working class characters and their plight are very much alive today, bringing to mind memories of the recent financial crisis and the VAL_4550 - Version 2withtextforecasts of more economic gloom.  The main protagonists – Antonia (Hanna Bondarewska), her husband Giovanni (Daren Marquardt), his best friend Luigi (Mitch Irzinski) and his wife and Antonia’s best friend Margherita (Moriah Whiteman) – could be found anywhere in today’s America. Fo’s messages, like the one spoken by Antonia, are as relevant now as they were in the 70s: “It’s the same in every economic crisis (…). Only now they call it a tsunami (…) destroying everything in its path. First the banks, then the corporations, governments, political parties. But the ones always hit first and hardest are the workers – and the people who scrimped and saved their whole lives.” (Fo, p 112).

To honor Fo’s wish that every production be relevant to its time and place, the play has been located in Newark, New Jersey. In the words of the co-Director, Joe Martin: “a mythical Newark, with its industry, its role as a transportation hub – much like Fo’s Milan – provided for us, a fitting American model. Italian place names and corporate institutions have been changed to American Equivalents. (…) The play is a tribute to the underclass created by the Great Recession, the bail-out of Wall Street, and even to our fellow “off-off” theatre companies working with little to create big artistic statement”.

Don’t be misled by the serious subject matter though, as Dario Fo, who “with comedy (…) can search for the profound”, is a master of a political theatre that makes people laugh. Drawing on traditions of Commedia Dell’Arte and its boulevard, grotesque style, as well as the Theatre of the Absurd, Fo delivers serious messages in a ridiculous, absurdist fashion. Recognizing the importance of the concept of ‘grotesque body’ in popular comedy, he uses it to bring down abstract, lofty ideals to the level of carnal world using physical comedy and slapstick, which abound in They Don’t Pay, We Won’t Pay.

HannaasAntoniabeingpregnantThe madness starts when Antonia, who during a food riot takes supplies from a supermarket, hides the groceries behind her friend’s coat when her law abiding spouse appears unexpectedly. Imagine the chaos, which ensues once Giovanni (who would rather starve than eat stolen food) and Luigi (convinced of his wife’s infertility) find out about Margherita’s pregnancy, and the authorities (Peter Orvetti) come searching for the food thieves.  The women’s clever lies and cheekiness create comedic mayhem of outrageous proportions, producing hilarious scenes involving the feign pregnancy ending in a birth with a bag of olives breaking instead of water; an unconscious cop hidden in a closet; saints, miracles and superstitions; coffin and undertakers.  

When the theatre is ironic, grotesque, it’s above all then that you have to defend it, because the theatre that makes people laugh is the theatre of Human reason” said the playwright in his speech of thanks at the Nobel Prize Banquet in 1997. In awarding him a Noble prize for literature (the first one bestowed on an actor-author) The Swedish Academy recognized him as a satirist who “emulates the jesters of the Middle Ages in scourging authority and upholding the dignity of the downtrodden”. A jester and an “extremely serious satirist”, who “with a blend of laughter and gravity (…) opens our eyes to abuses and injustices in society” (Bohlen).

The author, who turns 90 this year, is a true Renaissance man and an active political and social activist. The actor, director, playwright, satirist, composer, painter, stage designer, assistant architect, teacher, lecturer and novelist has always believed in the interests of common people and devoted his life to improving their lot. His plays, many co-created with his actress wife and a closest professional collaborator, Franca Rame, have been written about people and for people. Both Fo and his wife (no longer with us), have always believed that “A theatre (…), an artistic expression that does not speak for its own time has no relevance” (Dario Fo).

They Don’t Pay, We Won’t Pay is an excellent example of how Fo’s plays directly and sharply reflect the ills of his time, and how pertinent and relevant the issues remain to this day. The play’s characters say it all: “Policeman: People can’t go on like this. (…) These fat-cat pigs who starve, cheat, and rob us – they’re the real thieves” (Fo, pp 24-25). “Luigi: Things can’t keep on this way. Somebody’s gotta make a move. Forget waiting on government handouts – or for unions to muscle in, or the politicos to step up (…) We gotta make our own moves (…). We gotta shift gears – take control. Don’t you see? Everything’s changing – big time “ (Fo, p 51).

We can all feel it – everything is changing in our world, big time, so fast we are finding it difficult to adjust to the unstable present and embrace the unknown future. We need Theatre now more than ever, a magical place that has always been there for us, a place where we can reflect on ourselves and our times and forget about our worries and laugh. They Don’t Pay, We Won’t Pay has had audiences ‘in stiches’ since 1974, and continues to delight theatre goers with its physical humor, farcical plot, loveable, colourful characters and a contemporary message. A big ‘thank you’ to the Ambassador Theater and the Italian Cultural Institute for bringing this gem of a play to DC!

They Don’t Pay, We Won’t Pay plays March 1 – March 26,216 at Mead Theatre Lab at Flashpoint, 916 G Street NW, Washington DC. For 14yrs+ audiences.

Tickets: $20-$40 online: http://www.aticc.org/home/category/get-tickets

Fo, Dario. They Don’t Pay, We Won’t Pay. Translated by Jon Laskin and Michael Aquilante.
Bohlen, Celestine. Italy’s Barbed Political Jester, Dario Fo, Wins Nobel Prize, 10 Oct 1997. Nytimes.com

ElizaFalk (2)Eliza Anna Falk is a Warsaw and Sydney Universities' graduate and a DCMTA writer, who joined the Ambassador Theater in 2012 as a Creative and Editorial Consultant. Since then she has been providing literary and editorial support, including press releases, promotional essays, blog entries and translations, to all ATICC's productions.

Per gentile concessione di archivio.francarame.it

DARIO FO – The Jester of our times

Dario Fo

 Dario Fo, an Italian actor-author, can claim to be the most frequently performed living playwright in the world. Born on Lake Maggiore in northern Italy in 1926, he made his debut in theatre in 1952 and is still writing and performing. His work has gone through various phases, always in company with his actress wife Franca Rame. His stage career began with political cabaret, moved on to one-act farces, and then to satirical comedies in his so-called ‘bourgeois phase’ in the early 1960s when he became a celebrated figure on TV and in Italy’s major theatres. In 1968, he broke with conventional theatre to set up a co operative dedicated to producing politically committed work in what were then known as ‘alternative venues’. His best known work, including Accidental Death of an Anarchist, Mistero Buffo and Trumpets and Raspberries, dates from this period. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1997, and in the official citation the Swedish Royal Academy stated that he had ‘emulated the jesters of the Middle Ages in scourging authority and upholding the dignity of the downtrodden.’

Photo CreditsDario Fo, Cesenatico, 2005
Per gentile concessione di archivio.francarame.it

Dario Fo, Cesenatico, 2005
Per gentile concessione di archivio.francarame.it

The Team of Ambassador Theater is thrilled to partner with the Italian Cultural Institute and celebrate 90th Birthday of Dario Fo with the presentation of an Italian actor, an inerpreter of Dario Fo's monologues, Mario Pirovano, in Johan Padan and the Discovery of America Feb 26, 2016 at 7 PM at the Embassy of Italy and a production of DC Premiere of They Don’t Pay? We Won’t Pay! March 3-26, 2016 at FLASHPOINT, 916 G Street, NW, Washington DC.

They Don’t Pay? We Won’t Pay! is one of the greatest European comedies of the 20th Century, which caused the future Nobel Prize-winning playwright Dario Fo to be brought to trial for incitement. This working class farce set during a time of economic collapse, begins with an episode of mass shoplifting by working class women from food stores, due to price hikes. It soon converges with the shipping of cheap contraband food from Asia as well as work stoppages and strikes. As a result of the “liberation” of food from grocery stores, a peculiar number of pregnant-looking women in coats are being pursued by the authorities everywhere. One of these working class women, Antonia, must deal with her legalistic husband, Giovanni—a union member who plays by the rule-book. She must also explain the unexpected “pregnancy” of his best friend Luigi’s wife, Margherita, a fact that Giovanni in turn “reveals” to Margherita’s husband. But soon the raids by authorities seeking contraband food close in on their neighborhood, and chaos ensues.
Though the piece has been called a “comedy of hunger,” it is also about the bigger financial farce that results if the victims of financial collapse—brought about by capitalism run-amok—are asked to pay for the disaster while the guilty parties are bailed out. This play by a master playwright and performer, is both physical comedy and a comedy of wit, sometimes in “boulevard” style. Fo has roots in Commedia dell’Arte, and the influence shows in this modern farce. In awarding him the Nobel Prize for Literature—there is no theatre category!—the Nobel committee remarked in 1997 that Dario Fo “emulates the jesters of the Middle Ages in scourging authority and upholding the dignity of the downtrodden.”
 WHERE: Mead Theatre Lab at FLASHPOINT
     916 G Street NW, Washington DC
WHEN: March 3 – March 26, 2016; Wednesdays – Saturdays at 7:30 pm; Matinees Sundays at 3:00 pm
Previews March 1, 2 at 7:30 pm;

Opening & Reception follows, March 3 at 7:30 pm 
Press Night: Sat, March 5, 7:30 pm; Special Q&A after the show with the Special Guest, Italian Actor, longtime collaborator of Dario Fo, Mario Pirovano, director, Joe Martin and actors 
TICKETS: $20 – $40 Online For 14 + Audiences


Mario Pirovano

Mario Pirovano in Washington DC


The Italian Cultural Institute

with the partnership of the

Ambassador Theater 


Dario Fo and Mario PirovanoMARIO PIROVANO

an Italian actor, storyteller, translator and interpreter of Dario Fo’s monologues. His performances contribue to spread the Fo’s art in the world. Mario has been working closely with Dario Fo and Franca rame from 1983 to 2013. He performed the one-man shows of Mistero Buffo, Johan Padan a la Descoverta de le Americhe, Lu Santo Jullare Françesco, Vorrei morire anche stasera se dovessi sapere che non è servito a niente, and Ruzzante in Italy, Belgium, France, England, Scotland, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Sweden, Norway, Australia, China, Palestine, Pakistan, Ethipia, Kenia, Colombia, Venezuela, Argentina, Canada and the United States.  … I found him exceptional. Above all he didn’t take me off, he didn’t mimic me. He showed a vitality that was all his own, and the energetic inventiveness of a great story-teller. Dario Fo 


Johan Padan and the Discovery of America (Johan Padan a la Descoverta de le Americhe)

By Dario Fo Translated by Mario Pirovano

Friday, Feb 26, 2016  7:00 PM 

At the Embassy of Italy, 3000 Whitehaven St NW, Washington, DC 20008

By Invitation only!


MONDAY, FEB 29 at 7 PM

FLASHPOINT, 916 G Street, NW, Washinton DC 20001

FREE: REGISTER ONLINE Space is limited!


Dario Fo Dario Fo, an Italian actor-author, can claim to be the most frequently performed living playwright in the world. Born on Lake Maggiore in northern Italy in 1926, he made his debut in theatre in 1952 and is still writing and performing. His work has gone through various phases, always in company with his actress wife Franca Rame. His stage career began with political cabaret, moved on to one-act farces, and then to satirical comedies in his so-called ‘bourgeois phase’ in the early 1960s when he became a celebrated figure on TV and in Italy’s major theatres. In 1968, he broke with conventional theatre to set up a co operative dedicated to producing politically committed work in what were then known as ‘alternative venues’. His best known work, including Accidental Death of an Anarchist, Mistero Buffo and Trumpets and Raspberries, dates from this period. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1997, and in the official citation the Swedish Royal Academy stated that he had ‘emulated the jesters of the Middle Ages in scourging authority and upholding the dignity of the downtrodden.’

Johan Padan and the Discovery of America -Johan Padan a la Descoverta de le Americhe 

“Let us state clearly that is not the lamentable history of the massacres committed by the conquerors on the Indios. This is not the story of the usual losers. It is rather the epos of the victory of a population of Indios.

There are two fundamental types of chronicles of the discovery and conquest of America. On the one hand the stories written by the scribes following the conquerors. On the other, the tales of the coprotagonists who do not count, the “lastagonists”, from the dirty ranks, who come to tell their adventures having lived very close, even often right in the middle of the conquered, as prisoners…and even slaves!

Johan Padan is one of these unlucky adventurers, a gallows-bird of the fifteenth century, who has found himself right in the middle of thee discovery of America.

Johan Padan is a real figure, maybe his name is not exactly Johan Padan, but his actions are real: indeed they come from dozens of true stories told by the very men who lived them, the extras from the rank-and-file coming from all countries of Europe. All desperate people who do not count for anything in the official history of the discovery, but who arrived in the Indies, came in contact with the local people and found that they could count for something, or even a lot!

Johan Padan, a man from the mountains, does not like to sail but is compelled in spite of himself to make the great voyage. He is kidnapped by cannibals who fatten him up with the intention of eating him. He is saved by a stroke of luck and he becomes shaman, chief-wizard, doctor and is called “son of the rising sun”. He ha also compelled to teach the stories of the Gospels to thousands of Indios. Apocryphal Gospel of course.

The simple seamen, the ranks of little worth who switched sides with the conquered were many more than we used to think. And we must be clear: they did not content themselves with surviving, but they worked as strategists and military trainers so that the Indios could resist for a period of time against the invasion of the Christians.

We know the names of some of them, the best known are: Guerrero, Altavilla, Cabeza de Vaca. Hans Staden. 

But today we offer the extraordinary chance to know in person and from his own voice the tale of the most renowned of all the renegade foot soldiers: Johan Padan, ‘son of the rising sun’." Dario Fo

they_dont_pay640x480 (2)


Celebrating Dario Fo's 90th Birthday with They Don't Pay? We Won't Pay! at Ambassador Theater in Washington DC from aticc on Vimeo.


In Partnership with Italian Cultural Institute 

Ambassador Theater Presents

The Washington DC Premiere of

By Dario Fo

Translated by Jon Laskin and Michael Aquilante

Produced by Hanna Bondarewska

Directed by Joe Martin and Danny Rovin

Featuring: Hanna Bondarewska, Moriah Whiteman, Darren Marquardt, Mitch Irzinski and Peter Orvetti

March 3 – March 26, 2016 

Wednesdays – Saturdays at 7:30 pm; Matinees Sundays at 3:00 pm

Mead Theatre Lab at FLASHPOINT
916 G Street NW, Washington DC

Previews (Open Dress Rehearsals) March 1, 2 at 7:30 pm; 

March 3 at 7:30 pm, VIP Opening & Reception follows

Press Night: Sat, March 5, 7:30 pm; Special Q&A after the show with the Special Guest, Italian Actor, longtime collaborator of Dario Fo, Mario Pirovano, director, Joe Martin, and actors




Ambassador Theater is thrilled to celebrate 90th Birthday of Dario Fo, Italian satirist, playwright, director, actor and composer, and present a DC Premiere of They Don’t Pay? We Won’t Pay!  

Desperate housewives take justice in their own hands in this Nobel prize winner's hilarious farce of civil disobedience. The empowering story in which direct democracy is the way to go when government fails to protect citizens' rights, was inspired by real life events of workers' uprising in 1974's Italy. Hugely popular and more relevant than ever, They don't pay? We won't pay! delivers a serious message in a ridiculous, absurdist fashion generating truckloads of laughter and delighting with its lovable and colorful characters.
Meet Antonia, who during a food riot takes supplies from a supermarket and hides them from her law abiding husband Giovanni behind a dress of her best friend Margherita. Follow the chaos, which ensues once Giovanni and his friend and Margherita's spouse Luigi are told about Margherita's miracle pregnancy and the police gets involved. Be prepared for this uproarious 'boulevard comedy' to keep you glued to your seat feeling entertained and inspired at the same time!

Though the piece has been called a “comedy of hunger,” it is also about the bigger financial farce that results if the victims of financial collapse—brought about by capitalism run-amok—are asked to pay for the disaster while the guilty parties are bailed out. This play by a master playwright and performer, is both physical comedy and a comedy of wit, sometimes in “boulevard” style. Fo has roots in Commedia dell’Arte, and the influence shows in this modern farce. In awarding him the Nobel Prize for Literature—there is no theatre category! —the Nobel committee remarked in 1997 that Dario Fo “emulates the jesters of the Middle Ages in scourging authority and upholding the dignity of the downtrodden.” His plays have been translated into 30 languages and performed across the world, including in US, Argentina, Chile, England, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, and Yugoslavia.


DarioFoDario Fo has written over 70 plays, coauthoring some of them with his wife, the great comic actress Franca Rame.  Among his most popular plays are Morte accidentale di un anarchico (1974; Accidental Death of an Anarchist) and Non si paga, non si paga! (Originally titled in English We Can’t Pay? We Won’t Pay!). As a performer, Fo is best known for his solo tour de force Mistero Buffo (1973; “Comic Mystery”), which he toured world-wide, based on medieval mystery plays and jongleur performance pieces: in the spirit of the medieval jongleurs the shows changed with each audience, always remaining fresh and relevant. At age 90 he has published the novel, The Pope’s Daughter: A Novel of Lucrezia Borgia.


Antonia—Hanna Bondarewska
Giovanni–Darren Marquardt
Margherita—Moriah Whiteman
Luigi— Mitch Irzinski
Policeman/Federal Agent/Undertaker/Giovanni's Father—Peter Orvetti

Director-Joe Martin and Danny Rovin
Assistant Director – Xandra Weaver
Music/Sound – Noor Che'Ree
Set Designer – Rachael Knoblauch
Set/Artist Painter – Julia Tasheva
Ligthing Designer – E-hui Woo
Costume Designer – Sigridur Johannesdottir
Literary Director – Eliza Anna Falk
Stage Manager – Xandra Weaver
House Box Office Manager – Anders Hilton da Silva and Mari Davis





Ambassador Theater presents DC Premiere of
Smartphones, A Pocket-Size Farce by Emilio Williams​
Directed by Joe Banno​
with Ariana Almajan, Tekle Ghebremeschel​, Moriah Elizabeth Whiteman​, Shravan Amin​ and Hanna Bondarewska​
At FLASHPOINT, 916 G Street, NW, Washington DC
OCT 20 – NOV 15, 2015
THU – SAT at 8 PM
SAT & SUN at 2 PM



Sex, Lies and Nomophobia in Emilio Williams’ Smartphones by Eliza Anna Falk

Smartphones, A Pocket-Size Farce – produced by Hanna Bondarewska and Ambassador Theater in partnership with the Embassy of Spain and Spain arts and Culture, directed by Helen Hayes awarded Joe Banno – opens at Flashpoint on October 22, 2015 TICKETS ONLINE

ElizaFalk_1038x576Doesn’t existence seem totally absurd at times and life too restrictive? Don’t we wish we were free of social norms and do as we like? Aren’t we our own worst enemies at times? Emilio Williams*, the author of Smartphones, asks the same questions yet as a dramatist has the opportunity to dream our dreams and nightmares on stage. In Smartphones, inspired by Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, the avant-garde playwright takes his privilege to the absurdist limit. Mixing the Absurd, Ridiculous and the Surreal with a layer of ‘digital madness’, he brings human shadows and insecurities to light, making us reflect on life and to laugh, nervously at times, in the process.  

Emilio Williams is a dramatist who uses his medium like a magnifying glass, bringing into focus complex aspects of our psyche challenged by today’s fast-paced existence. Just like his influences – Beckett, Ludlam, Moliere and Buñuel, he is acutely aware of what is difficult, awkward and absurd in life and chooses to talk about it using humor, farce and parody. “Nothing is more radical than humor” says Williams, whose multi-dimensional plays combine laughter with existential themes and a pertinent social satire. Smartphones, his only play that takes part in one set, one room and in real time, is also a great example of Williams’ reaction against conventions of the Realistic Theater. 

“Your comedies tend to be silly but not stupid” said William’s friend once, and the author liked the comment. In case of Smartphones silly and serious go together. After all the play is a tribute to and a parody of the Theatre of the Absurd, as well as an example of William’s avoidance of literalness of theater realism. Also, true to the Theater of the Ridiculous Manifesto and its canon of ‘the free person’, Smartphones’ personas are free to act in a spontaneous and silly way whilst not compromising seriousness of the matter. “The free person, as distinct from an authoritarian phony or the civilized adult, is erotic, socially self-assertive, playful and imaginative” (Brecht: 117) and so are the play’s characters.

Chantal and Dagobert, Amelia and Barnaby are stuck together in their friend’s house waiting for his arrival. The couples, educated and socially assertive, reveal their true, outrageous colors as the play progresses. Their neurosis, lies and hidden desires come to the surface taking us by surprise and shocking with their boldness, yet feeling strangely familiar or attractive at the same time. How reassuring and cathartic is to see our own shadows and shameful secrets reflected in other people and our faults and obsessions appearing ‘normal’ and symptomatic of the times. After all, aren’t we, the civilized humans, soldiers in the universal battle to maintain balance between primal desires and social norms?

 Smartphones’ characters are in their 30s and 40s and have a lot in common with the Millennial Generation, displaying strong traits of entitlement and narcissism, and suffering from ‘nomophobia’ – short for “no-mobile-phone-phobia”.  Glued to their Smartphones and obsessed with digital communication they make an absurd yet very familiar sight. Seeing their addiction to the virtual world and disconnectedness from the real one, makes us react in the way Williams intended. The characters themselves have flashes of awareness uttering the author’s profound messages, such as when Barnaby says to his college friend Dagobert: "You see, always on Facebook, back and forward, but with each day that passes we know each other less" (Williams:42). 

Whilst the popular saying “we live in a crazy world” certainly rings true in Smartphones justifying the silliness and the laughter, the play’s serious undertones remind us how difficult and complex today’s existence can really be. Digital and other addictions, racism, unemployment, gender/sexual issues, are only some of the current challenges affecting our lives and our conscience. Smartphones is a play at its best, entertaining, current, reflecting on what it is to be human and what it is to be part of the 21st century society. What makes it particularly entertaining is its absurdist form and ‘ridiculous’ characters shocking us with their outrageous behaviors, which for many of us may not seem that outrageous after all.

Williams, Emilio. Smartphones.
Brecht, Stefan. Family of the f. p.: Notes on the Theatre of the Ridiculous 
Source: The Drama Review: TDR, Vol. 13, No. 1 (Autumn, 1968), pp. 117-141
Published by: The MIT Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1144443 .

About the author
Emilio Williams is an award winning playwright from Madrid, who moved to Chicago in 2011. His avant-garde, profound comedies, such as Your problems with Men, Medea got Some Issues, Tables and Beds, have been produced in Spain, France, Estonia, UK and USA. "Smartphones, a pocket-size farce" received its world premiere at Trap Door Theatre, Chicago on July 19th, 2012 and was directed by Emilio Williams.


‘Under Kafka’s Spell – Rozewicz and The Trap’ by Eliza Anna Falk

ElizaFalk_1038x576The Ambassador Theater is back with its biggest production to date, showcasing work of one of the greatest post-war poets and playwrights of the 20th century, Polish-born Tadeusz Rozewicz. Produced and directed by Hanna Bondarewska, The Trap takes us inside Kafka’s bizarre life, at the same time making us reflect on the alienation of a modern artist and fragility of life. The US premiere of The Trap coincides with the 1st anniversary of the author’s death, as well as the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Nazi concentration camps, and as such is a timely and important opportunity to carry on Rozewicz’s artistic message about the tragic history of WWII. (The play opens on May 28 and plays through June 21, at XX Bldg., 814 20th Street NW, Washington DC. See www.aticc.org for more information.)

“After fifty years of composing poetry and plays I came to understand the futility of unravelling the Franz Kafka “mystery”. My only justification is that I worked and wrote as best I could”. “This is my farewell to Franz Kafka. I’m 69. The time of farewells is close” – Tadeusz Rozewicz (Rozewicz1: 8).


Spellbound by Kafka

The Trap published in 1982 was not only Rozewicz’s farewell to Kafka, but also a ‘crowning’ of his long fascination with the enigmatic writer. Rozewicz’s interest began in 1949 when he visited Franz’s hometown, Prague for the first time, returning in 1957. Yet despite the author’s continued ‘dialog’ with Kafka and few short sketches from the travels, he had not written a major work related to Franz until much later. His play inspired by Kafka and based on his short story A Hunger Artist (where caged showman starves for long periods for amusements of crowds), was written in 1979. In the piece titled The Hunger Artist Departs and regarded as a precursor to The Trap (Filipowicz: 164), Rozewicz created his own version of the ’hunger artist’ seen through the prism of Kafka. In the Post Scriptum to the play he wrote: “Franz Kafka himself (…) was one of the great authentic Hunger Artists” (Rozewicz1: 111,) an artist known to be obsessed with desire to create, and prepared to sacrifice earthly pleasures in the name of art. The same artist we see in The Trap.


 Kafka’s genius aside, Rozewicz’s fascination also stemmed from what the two had in common. Both were preoccupied with examination of human soul and fate, and wrote from the heart not caring about the literary canons. Both shared a common and profound interest in the fundamental issues of human condition, and as artists dealt with and wrote about solitude, estrangement and the existential pressures. The disturbing and moving atmosphere of Kafka’s works and his way of perceiving reality resonated with Rozewicz’s post war angst, times, when in conflict with the cruel world, he was trying to cope with feelings of helplessness and despair. One can see why Kafka’s heroes -victims of fate trapped in a prison-like setting desperately looking for escape – struck a chord with Rozewicz. Not surprisingly Kafka’s symbols of ‘cage’ and ‘mole’ found their way into his poems, prose and plays (Drewnowski: 289) to demonstrate the alienation of an artist and cruelty of the world.

Victims and Sons

Although the writers were born in different centuries (Kafka in 1883, Rozewicz in 1921), both became innocent victims of their environment and experienced deep psychological traumas. Rozewicz lived through World War II (WWII) and later, living in “free” Poland, suffered under the Stalinist regime. A witness to atrocities of war and the Holocaust, he was never able to free himself from the horrific visions of war crimes. His poetry, prose and plays strongly reflect the impact those experiences had on his and his generation’s psyche, outlook and vision of the future: “I am twenty-four led to slaughter I survived. (…) The way of killing men and beasts is the same I’ve seen it: truckfuls of chopped up men who will not be saved” – he wrote in 1945 in his poem The Survivor. In another poem, Beyond Words, he said: “What are you doing emerged from darkness – Why don’t you want to live in full light – Within me war opens up an eyelid of a million shattered faces – Blood smeared what are you piecing together what is your burden – I am piecing together words – I carry my time (…)” (Rozewicz2).                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               

   Kafka’s drama had much more personal roots. Shy and neurotic, trapped between an overprotective, weak mother, and a critical, domineering father, he became an emotional cripple, forever doubting himself and his manhood. The conflict with his father was so deeply embedded in his psyche that neither becoming an adult nor securing a job as an insurance official helped him to break the toxic bond or heal the relationship. Torn between a desire to devote himself to writing, and the pressure to marry, settle down and emulate his father, he was unable to find peace and contentment – either as a man or an artist. So strong were his fears, self-doubt and feelings of guilt, so weak his health that he broke off engagements, never married, and ordered his entire writings to be destroyed after his passing.

   Family was of the utmost importance to the artists.  Rozewicz was as devoted to his loving, caring mother (who came from a Jewish family converted to Catholicism) as was Franz. His father, although of kind disposition, just like Franz’s, was not interested in his son’s literary ambitions.  In Mother Departs, a family memoir, Tadeusz writes: “’I am a poet’, you search for synonyms to help you come out to the world (…) Of course, Mother knows. But to say something like that to my father was unthinkable…So I never did tell my Father (…) he’d be so remote (…)” (Rozewicz3). Artistic vocation was a source of guilt for both – Kafka felt guilty of not meeting his father’s expectations, Rozewicz of being a poet. Both witnessed loss of their siblings. Two of Kafka’s younger brothers died by the time he was six, whereas Rozewicz’s elder brother, like him a member of the Polish Home Army, was tortured and killed by Gestapo.


Kafka and Rozewicz’s contributions to literature are highly innovative and unique. Since posthumous publication of Kafka’s major novels, his original style of writing has been hailed as revolutionary in the way it affected language and expression (Deleuze and Guattari: 16). Kafka himself indicated in his diaries and theoretical notes that he was inventing a new type of literature (14). Despite a general consensus that Kafka created “a new literary continent” by wiping out “old topography of mind and thought” (16), his prose has been placed into a variety of literary schools and keeps being examined and interpreted. Yet irrespective of numerous analysis and attempts to label the style of his unusual writings, it has been impossible to define Kafka’s ‘literature’ and its impact with one term, other than with the word “Kafkaesque”. Used to describe situations and concepts reminiscent of his work, the term is a true testament to uniqueness and originality of Franz Kafka’s artistic creation which keeps baffling readers and critics.

   Rozewicz, an experimenter and innovator, is known for revolutionizing 20th century poetry after the tragedy of WWII. Deeply hurt, shocked and ‘mimed’ by the war crimes, the author rejected the traditional poetic language as unsuitable to express the post-war reality, and created ‘anti-poetry’ characterized by stark, direct language and simple form (Rozewicz2: 337). Concurrently, inspired by ‘theatre of the absurd’ and Kafka’s concept of ‘inner drama’, the poet experimented with theatrical forms in search of his own style, which he later described as ‘realistic-poetic’. (Braun: 37). The result was an ‘interior, open theatre’, in which the stream of consciousness replaced action and became a formless (yet poetic) record of human experience (Braun: 24). The ‘open’ theatre, where plays lack traditional structure with beginning, middle and end, may also have been inspired by Kafka, known for starting to write in the middle rather than from the beginning and leaving works unfinished, including his only play, where  “the action slowly dies away and eventually comes to a halt” (Rozewicz4: 111). 

Traps within The Trap

One of the main themes of Kafka’s writings is an archetypal situation when an innocent  human being is attributed a fault, ostracised and trapped in a hopeless predicament, yet keeps maintaining his innocence and seeks atonement. The world Kafka created in his works was largely a reflection of his own trappings and desperate attempts to escape them. Although The Trap was never intended as biographical, being based on Kafka’s diaries and correspondence (mainly Letters to Father) it dramatizes important images from the artist’s life, especially those illustrating his most challenging struggles and fears. In the play we see glimpses of his childhood; complex relationship with father; his failed attempts to marry; relations with friends and family; failing health, to name the most important.

  Franz’s predicaments constitute examples of traps and fears familiar to other artists and many of us. Biology, psyche, family and culture are common sources of barriers on the way to fulfilment.  The constraints of his body constituted a serious obstacle for spiritual Franz, as illustrated in the dialog between him and his sister Ottla. “Ottla - It’s all because you shut yourself up, you slam the door on the world, you lock it out and you build a trap, a burrow, with tremendous effort and the sweat of your brow; and you fall into it ill and tormented. All you have to do is open the door. Life begins outside, you take your first step, then the next, and away you fly!” To which Franz’s responds: “I am a trap, my body is a trap that caught me after birth (…) I do sometimes think of escaping, maybe I’ll free myself at last” (Rozewicz1: 42).

   Max Brod, Franz’s best friend and literary executor, wrote in his memoires about Kafka that his friend had always been torn between longing for solitude and being part of a group (Brod: 128). It appears that Franz’s shyness and aversion to physical world held a stronger grip as it often forced him to rely on family and Max to communicate with the outside world.  “Why is it that whenever you have to face life you make use of other people? Apart from writing and dying you’ve always wanted to do things by proxy (…).There you are, rat, burrowing rat! Again you want to hide but you must answer the question“. Says Max in The Trap. ”This isn’t a question, this is a noose”, replies Franz. (Rozewicz1:37).                                                                                                                                                     

   As if the above hurdles and conflict with the father were not enough, Kafka’s social milieu presented him with a further complication – a trap of culture.  Born into German speaking Jewish family in Czech speaking Prague, and educated in German, he developed an identity which was as fragmented as his personal world. Although undoubtedly enriched by multi-cultural environment, he was nevertheless deprived of the stability of mono-cultural upbringing and disturbed by his diverse background, as indicated in his diary: “Enclosed in my own four walls, I found myself as an immigrant imprisoned in a foreign country (…) I saw my family as strange aliens whose foreign customs, rites, and very language defied comprehension” (Preece: 15-31).

Kafka’s Prophecy and the Trap of History

What would have been the fate of Franz Kafka had his life not been taken by illness in 1924 at the age of 40?  In all likelihood, like his sisters, he would have perished in a Nazi concentration camp. It seems that the destiny of his family and fellow Jews was already being determined when he was still alive and the anti-Semitic sentiments were on the rise amongst Czech and German nationalists (Pavel, p.47).  Kafka has been seen as a prophet who had not only sensed his own passing but also the forthcoming tragedy of the Holocaust (Drewnowski: 294). His picture of prison-like world full of danger and pain inflicted by fellow humans, where the innocent victims go to impossible lengths to survive, came to life soon after his death. Kudos to Rozewicz for his ingenious idea of The Trap, which completes Kafka’s prophecy and fulfils his vision of the world (Braun: 55).

   The Trap, Rozewicz’s last piece written for the theatre, is an important and highly original play, with complex layers of meaning and a crucial message for its audiences. In it, Rozewicz lets us inside Kafka’s personal fears, anxieties and struggles, imparting knowledge about the writer’s complex existence as a man and a writer. On a higher level, he builds a generic portrait of a modern artist alienated and trapped by an archetypal struggle between art/spirit and life/matter, and shows us the fragility of artistic creation and human existence.

   The Trap’s originality stems from a number of sources. Firstly, from Rozewicz’s unique vision of Kafka seen through the image he had built over the period of fifty years, and the prism of his own war-time experiences. Secondly, from the freedom offered by the ‘openness’ of his theatre, which allowed him to ‘travel ’ beyond the 19th century Prague and place Kafka and his family in the ultimate nightmare and trap of the 20th century-the Holocaust. By doing so, he is able to continue sharing his painful, war-time past, and remind audiences, that the memory of ‘hell on earth’ should never be forgotten and must be kept alive as a warning to future generations.

The Trap is a serious play, yet not without potential for comedy. The Director, Hanna Bondarewska, builds on the absurdity of some of Franz’s phobic behaviours and discovers many moments of laughter. Let’s not forget about Kafka’s wit and sense of humor and the fact that his personal world was not devoid of hope and respect for life, as his Diaries indicate: “Let the heavy rain fall on you, let it cleanse you, join the stream that wants to take you; but persevere, keep standing straight and wait until the sun comes out and fills you up”. Does Rozewicz offers us hope in the play? I sincerely hope to see Kafka’s 'ray of sunshine' in The Trap before leaving the theater.

The Trap Opens May 28, 2015 at 8 pm  at XX Bldg, 814 20th Street, NW, Washington DC


Primary Sources

Rozewicz, Tadeusz. The Trap. Translated by Adam Czerniawski. Harwood Academic Publishers, Amsterdam, 1997.

Rozewicz, Tadeusz. Selected Poems. Wydawnictwo Literackie, Krakow 1995.

Rozewicz, Tadeusz. Mother Departs. Translated by Barbara Bogoczek, storkpress.co.uk.

Rozewicz, Tadeusz. Mariage Blanc and The Hunger Artist Departs. Translated by Adam Czerniawski . Marion Boyars, London, New York, 1983.

Secondary Sources

Braun, Kazimierz.  MojTeatr Rozewicza. Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Rzeszowskiego, Rzeszow 2013.

Brod, Max. Franz Kafka. Czytelnik, Warszawa 1982. Translated from German by Tadeusz Zabludowski. German title Franz Kafka. Eine Biographie.

Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari Felix. Kafka. Toward a Minor Literature. Translation by Dana Polan. Theory and History of Literature, Vol 30, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, London.

Drewnowski, Tadeusz. Walka o Oddech. O pisarstwie Tadeusza Rozewicza. Wydawnictwo Artystyczne i Filmowe, Warszawa 1990.

Filipowicz, Halina. A Laboratory of Impure Forms. Plays of Tadeusz Rozewicz. Freenwood Publishing Group, Westport, CT, 1991.

Pavel, Ernst. Franz Kafka. Koszmar Rozumu. Translated from English by Irena Stapor. Twoj Styl, Warszawa 2003. English title The Nightmare of Reason. A Life of Franz Kafka.

Preece, Julian. The Cambridge Companion to Kafka. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2001.


Daniel GerouldtalksabiutRozewicz

The Open Theatre of Tadeusz Różewicz

The Open Theatre of Tadeusz Różewicz

By Daniel Gerould

  Although he has not written anything new for the theatre since The Trap (Pulapka, 1981), Tadeusz Różewicz remains the      most provocative and original Polish playwright of the post-war period. His probing of the boundaries traditionally assigned to  theatre has put him in the forefront of artistic innovators along with Kantor and Grotowski. Outstanding directors have sought to realize his work in production, despite inherent tensions between the author's radically experimental propositions and the nature of theatre itself.

With his first performed play, The Card Index ( Kartoteka, 1960), Różewicz (already a major poet) introduced a new theatrical language of fragmented structure and imagistic montage, which, at first, seemed disorienting but eventually came to be accepted as a quintessential expression of post-war sensibility. For the generation of Poles who came of age in 1939, the experience of wholesale death and destruction during the war and occupation had rendered obsolete notions of beauty, high ideals, and noble words. A new aesthetic, Różewicz felt, had to take Auschwitz as its basic premise.  Literature as it had existed until then was simply a lie. Repudiating ideologies, moral judgments and intellectual speculations as empty abstractions, the author of The Trap clung to the bare facts of human life as the only truths and the only values.

Of Polish playwrights since 1945, Różewicz has been the most restless experimenter with form. In a number of his works for the stage he undertakes an ontological analysis of theatre that questions the very assumptions that make performance possible. Recognizing that reality will not submit to the artistic conceptions of the past, the Polish poet strives to go beyond the limits of the genre. In rejecting hierarchical notions of high and low, foreground and background, beginning, middle and end, Różewicz essays a kind of drama that starts at point zero with an undifferentiated aleatory mass of sights and sounds and persists as pure duration.

Różewicz has repeatedly voiced the "desire to write a play that would be both truly realistic and at the same time poetic."  By rendering poetry realistic and realism poetic, the playwright has achieved his goal in many of his dramas. His work is realistic in the sense of being totally immersed  in existence  in  all  its  corporeality; the ordinary, the banal  and the bodily are the playwright's raw materials  which he refuses to imbue with any transcendental meaning. But Różewicz is an unorthodox "realism" unencumbered by illusionistic conventions. Externals, such as plot and cause­ and-effect sequentiality, are eliminated in favor of an interior drama that reveals life as it is experienced in the depths of stillness.

To paint a picture of everyday life in which nothing out of the ordinary hap­pens, the author of The Trap favors the simplest means: emptiness among events, silence between words, waiting. Action, the most basic element of drama in the traditionalist view, is considered by Różewicz to be the antithesis of realism and thus the negation of true theatre. "My plays have no endings," the Polish poet has declared. Rather than the temporal unfolding of a plot, he strives for the simple duration of a given situation. His aim is the creation of an "open theatre" without fixed perimeters where scenes can be re-ordered or added at will. Różewicz’s method of composition is a poetic counterpoint and collage of images producing a polyphonic form capable of accommodating a rich mixture of styles ranging from the colloquial and salacious to elegant parody and pastiche of fin-de-siècle fashions and literary traditions.

Questioning the separation of theory from practice, Różewicz has produced a new kind of script that is half treatise and polemic with his predecessors, in which extended stage directions serve as a commentary to interrupt the action and disintegrate the dramatic form. The lengthy stage directions are also arguments with all future directors with whom the play­wright may conceivably collaborate. His concept of "open theatre" involves the creation of works that can be completed only in the theatre when director, designer and performers confront the text-and one another.

For Różewicz, the struggle between a play and its realization on stage is the crowning moment of the whole theatrical process.  "What I like best in the theatre are the rehearsals," the playwright avows. "When the director fights with everything and everyone. The drama of the battle over the shape of the 'performance'." The texts that Różewicz produces are designed to heighten the conflict by resisting the efforts of theatre artists to dominate the author. "I've written my plays," the author explains, "so as to make difficulties for the directors who stage them, not to make their lives easy."

Różewicz has been fascinated with Kafka ever since he first visited Prague during the Stalin years when the Czech author was forbidden reading. Along with Chekhov and Beckett, Kafka serves as a model for Różewicz’s concept of inner drama and directly inspired two of the author's last dramas. The Hunger Artist, a highly personal adaptation of Kafka's tale, explores the creative process and the relation of artist to society.

Loosely based on the writer's diaries and letters, The Trap is an enigmatic work that "sets traps" for literal-minded critics, directors and audiences. Not one of the Czech author's literary works is ever mentioned (except the generic "Letter to His Father"), nor does the name Kafka once appear.  This is hardly the usual life of an artist in which titles and names are constantly dropped. We may ask: is The Trap a biographical play about Kafka? Różewicz himself denies that this is the case, insisting that his task as poet, after absorbing masses of facts about the Czech writer, was to depart as far as possible from the documentary material so that his own drama could come into being.

In fact, the Polish author is more concerned with Kafka's inmost fears than with the realia of his life, and except for a few fragments from the letters, Różewicz leaves his sources discreetly uncited. The Trap dramatizes anxieties and nightmares of the artist Franz as he himself experiences them in relation to his father, his family, his friend, and his fiancée. And despite his attempts to escape the many threats of confinement-existential, societal and historical-assailing him from all sides, the traps are too cunning for Franz. At first sight the highly fluid structures of time and space that Różewicz has created for The Trap make the play seem formless and meandering. The play, however, actually has a firm skeleton of recurring phrases, images and motifs. It is only superficially an "amorphous" play, Różewicz argues,"less like the crown of a tree than the underground roots intertwined and growing in all directions.  And therefore the length-in a temporal sense-of a scene on the stage does not always correspond to the length of the duration of that 'scene' or to the space that it occupies in the text."

The playwright uses Tableau XII, "At the Barber's", to illustrate the drama's temporal indeterminacy and elasticity. "The hidden magnitude of that scene is many times greater than what is shown taking place on the stage.  It is a scene that comprises the past and the future lurking in the present. … The roots are still hidden in the soil, in the darkness, of the future." The scene takes place in 1914 as war is declared on Serbia, and at the same time the Barber's assistant Vic abuses the Jewish Gentleman like a Nazi thug some twenty years later.

Structured as a series of tableaux, The Trap is a family photo album through which we can move backwards and forwards. The central image embodying all the play's dangers, the "trap" is as much biology as history. It is lurking everywhere-as the body in which Franz is imprisoned and as the camp (Auschwitz) to which his sisters will be sent. The "trap" is simultaneously present at all times, in all scenes, extending beyond Franz to the world at large. Throughout the play the Nazis are waiting behind the scenes-represented by the Black Wall. At the denouement of The Trap, what has until this point been the tragedy of a family, and of an individual victimized by the family, becomes the tragedy of the Jews. As the actors playing Kafka and his family take their bows, the Executioner-Guards come out from behind the Black Wall that opens at the back of the stage and brutally push the performers off to the trains leaving for the death camps. As the wall closes, only desperate fingers and palms of hands can be seen.

For Jerzy Jarocki, a frequent Różewicz collaborator who directed The Trap in 1992, the drama grows out of the confrontation between Kafka's apocalyptic forebodings and Różewicz’s own experiences of the war and the Holocaust. Significantly, it is not the sensitive Franz, but his blunt pragmatic Father who scents the coming of the Executioners and forecasts the Holocaust. Franz is too obsessed with the inner concentration camp of creativity to which his art has condemned him to have direct knowledge of the approaching Nazis. Whenever the Executioner-Guards appear, he is in a state of dreaming. Literature, which is Franz's fate, proves perilous to his life.

Built on a poetics of heterogeneity, The Trap consists of realistic dialogue, long multi-layered conversations, remembrances, quotations, descriptions, visions, dreams and events taking place outside Franz's consciousness as well as scenes occurring in his presence but not perceived by him. Recurrence and transformation are devices that bind the diverse layers into a whole. Felice's teeth, ready to devour the artist, become the gold crowns of the corpses at the extermination camp Majdanek. The huge wardrobe that for Franz seems a tombstone appears to his Father as a means of salvation in which the family can hide from its persecutors. Father and son pairs occur in different modalities. Despite (or perhaps because of) the writer's instructions to bum his works, Max becomes Franz's "wardrobe" that will preserve his "children" from destruction. Franz's supposed son by Grete is a monster (as he has been for his Father), the revenge of nature on the artist for giving himself exclusively to the creative imagination.

The entire drama is punctuated by the presence of Franz's Animula, or little soul, a childhood double, who, Różewicz tells us in one of his permissive stage directions, may appear at any point throughout the performance . The playwright has written several such appearances into the text, as, for ex­ample, in Tableau Ill where Animula watches Franz's dream of his Father's enactment of Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac, and in Tableau XV where the "little soul" is a silent witness to the deportations through the Black Wall. Never does Animula identify with any of the characters or actions, remaining on stage alone after everyone has gone and leaving the theatre with the last spectator. If the Executioner-Guards take us ahead into a historical future, Animula always brings us back to a timeless past of childhood and its open­ eyed perceptions of adult horrors-noncommittal, non-judgmental, non­ comprehending.

Różewicz is only one of many late twentieth-century playwrights who have found in the Czech author's life and work inspiration for their own dramas, but The Trap may well be the most penetrating treatment of Kafka's psychic dilemma. It is curious to note to what extent Różewicz's intensely personal, Polish viewpoint anticipates that of the British writer Alan Bennett, who analyzes Kafka's predicament in almost identical terms, al­though his own plays on the subject are radically dissimilar.

In his "Author's Note" of 1987 to Two Kafka Plays (Kafka's Dick and The Insurance Man), Bennett views Kafka as a prey to traps both biological and historical. "Death took no chances with Kafka and laid three traps for his life," Bennett writes. "Parched and voiceless from TB of the larynx, he was forty, the victim, as he himself said, of a conspiracy by his own body.  But had his lungs not ganged up on him there was a second trap, twenty years down  the line when the agents of death would have shunted him, as they did his three sisters, into the gas chambers. That fate, though it was not to be his, is evident in his last photograph. It is a face that prefigures the concentration camp."

The third trap that might have caught Kafka (but never did) is the consequence of Bennett's playful imagining that the Czech writer first avoids TB and then escapes the Nazis by fleeing to America in 1938, only to die of asbestos poisoning which he had contracted in 1917 while managing his brother-in-law's factory. Although Bennett uses the same "trap" metaphor as Różewicz, it is unlikely that the British playwright could have known the Polish drama. And whereas Bennett has written "exterior" drama of a satirical nature about the reception, perception and consumption of Kafka as a cultural artifact in present-day Britain, Różewicz has placed Franz's ambiguous inner drama as son and artist in the context of the tragic historical catastrophe that engulfed his family, his culture, and his civilization.

The ultimate "trap" for Różewicz is Kafka himself, who, the Polish playwright avers, is a "black hole" in the European literary firmament capable of swallowing whatever is attracted to it. In The Trap Franz maintains that "Silence contains everything and is more important and vaster than speech and sound." For Różewicz , theatre has great possibilities; there is nothing it can­ not encompass. But speaking about silence has become such an impossible task that it has kept him from writing for the stage since 1981.

In 1991-ten years after the play was first published- Różewicz added a prologue to The Trap in the form of a poem, "Interrupted Conversation", which is an interior monologue by Franz during the last months or days of his life in a sanatorium near Vienna. Unable to speak, the dying writer communicates with the outside world on scraps of paper. His thoughts are dis­connected but return persistently to his obsessions: the various women in his life, his complexes, problems with his Father, reflections on war and death. According to the poet, the prologue offers a summation of the play, with stress on its twin themes of suffering and silence. It is Różewicz’s farewell to Kafka.

The Trap

 Ambassador Theater presents the US Premiere of


…Anxieties and nightmares of Franz Kafka…

By Tadeusz Różewicz

Translated by Adam Czerniawski

May 28 – June 21, 2015

XX Bldg. of the George Washington University

814 20 Street, NW, Washington DC






TrapBanner_640x480 (4)

ON STAGE- The Trap

The Trap

In Partnership with the Embassy of the Republic of Poland, Polish Cultural Institute in New York and Department of Theater & Dance at the George Washington University

Ambassador Theater presents US Premiere of

The Trap

…Anxities and nightmares of an artist, Franz Kafka…

 by Tadeusz Różewicz  

 Translated by Adam Czerniawski

With Music by Jerzy Satanowski

…the most provocative and original playwright of the post-war period….enigmatic works that "sets up traps" for literal-minded critics, directors and audiences… 

Produced and Directed by Hanna Bondarewska

Assistant Director Shawn W. Lyles

Set Design by Carl Gudenius

Multimedia Design by Riki Kim

Lighting Design by Michael Stepowany

Sound Design by Paul Oehlers 

Costumes by Sigridur Johannesdottir

Stage Manager  Yijin (Vanessa) Liu


Matthew PayneColin DaviesBenjamin KoonzMorganne Davies *, Alexander RolinskiAriana AlmajanMelissa RobinsonMadeline BurrowsEmily GilsonAbigail RoppJohn Brennan, Peter Orvetti, Marlove Vilchez, Ed Klein, and Tiffany Pindell

 *Member of Actors Equity Association

May 28 – June 21, 2015

XX Bldg of the George Washington University, 814 20th Street, NW, Washington DC 

Get your Tickets Online today!




rozewiczTadeusz Różewicz

The Polish poet, playwright, screenwriter, novelist, satirist and translator of Hungarian poetry. One of the most versatile and creative continuators of the Polish and international avant – garde. Member of the Polish Writers' Association. Often mentioned as a candidate for the Nobel Prize. Tadeusz Różewicz died on April 24, 2014.

Tadeusz Różewicz was born September 9, 1921 in Radomsko. His father, Władysław, was a junior court clerk and his mother Stefania Maria, of the house Gelbard, was a housewife. Tadeusz had two brothers, the elder Janusz and the younger Stanisław. Although Różewicz received an equivalent of GCSE in the Felix Fabiani school, his further education was stopped by the outbreak of World War II.

The War, the Forest and the Pen

In 1939 Różewicz began working as an errand-boy, a warehouseman, and apprentice carpenter in the Bent-wood Furniture Factory – Thonet to help support his family. It was at this time that Janusz Różewicz, the first literary mentor to his brother, introduced him to the Polish literary underground. After a six-month training in an underground Officer Cadet School, Tadeusz was sworn into the Home Army (codename “Satyr”) to fight as part of the guerrilla troops from June 26, 1943 to November 3, 1944.

During this time he wrote poems and edited the newspaper Czyn Zbrojny (Armed Action). He published the tome Forest Echoes, which contained poems, epigrams, humoresques and patriotic, poetic prose together with Janusz in 1944. In these first pieces of Różewicz we can observe a passion for the works of  Juliusza Słowacki and Stefan Żeromski, as well as a spiritual dilemma akin to his contemporaries such as Krzysztof Kamil Baczyński and Tadeusz Gajcy, particularly as they relate to the circumstances of war.

In 1943 Janusz Różewicz wrote to his brother, “You'll write better than me, you'll be a better poet…” In July that year he was arrested by the Germans and was shot and executed on August 3, 1944.

Tadeusz revealed himself to the Liquidation Committee in 1945, received the Polish Army Medal in 1948 and the London Home Army Medal in 1974.

A New Shape of Poetry

Julian Przyboś, whom the poet had met in the editorial office of Odrodzenie (The Rebirth), brought Różewicz from Częstochowa, where he had passed his baccalaureate exams, to Kraków. Here Tadeusz began studying History of Art at the Jagiellonian University but never finished. He became involved with the neoavangardist Grupa Krakowska, whose members include Tadeusz Kantor,Jerzy Nowosielski, Kazimierz Mikulski, Andrzej Wróblewski and Andrzej Wajda.

Różewicz gave a new shape to poetry by rebuilding a sense of meaning in life after the tragedy of Auschwitz — a trauma after which, according to Theodor Adorno, nothing authentic could be created anymore. The author has been accused of nihilism and a vulnerability to Western influence (namely Eliot, Pound and Russell) for his expressionistic and catastrophic poetry style, but nevertheless his poetry books Niepokój (Anxiety) (1947) and Czerwona rękawiczka (The Red Glove) (1948) have been considered revolutionary. Czesław Miłosz responded to them in one of his tomes, Ocalenie (Salvation).

Różewicz fled to escape the communist regime 1950, the same year his friend Tadeusz Borowski went to Berlin. There he again became fascinated with the universality and the “greyness” of human existence in line with the philosophical ideology of Eyelash by Leopold Staff.

After a year in Hungary, Różewicz came back to Poland and settled in Gliwice with his wife Wiesława. The couple had two sons, the elder Kamil in 1950 and the younger Jan in 1953. They lived in poverty away from the literary turmoil. In the book Czas, który idzie (Time to Come) he made ironic remarks about the superimposed order: “Communism will elevate people/ wash off the time of scorn,” as he came to know the bitter taste of the literary milieu's “battue.”

The political thaw after the death of Stalin and the events of 1956 opened Poland to the West. Fascinated by the works of the Paris avant-garde, particularly Beckett and Ionesco, he wrote the drama Kartoteka (The Card Index), his most revolutionary work and contribution to the theater of the absurd. More abstract, neobaroque and formist trials can be found in the poem Zielona róża(The Green Rose) and the tome Nic w płaszczu Prospera (Nothing Dressed in Prospero's Cloak), parallel with Miłosz's That.

Różewicz's stylistic invention of file-like text compilation and editing, as observed in the textPrzygotowania wieczoru autorskiego (Preparations to an Authors Soiree), provoked Przyboś in 1967 to viciously attack Różewicz for “trashy, pop-art ideas.” In 1968 the poet moved to Wrocław.

Różewicz’s works have been translated into 49 languages. In 2000 he received the Nike Litarary Award for Matka odchodzi (Mother Departs), a book of poetry containing the author's intimate confessions in the form of poems, notes from the Gliwice Journal and selections from the memoirs of his mother Stefania and his brother Stanisław. The text documents are supplemented by family photographs and fragments of written correspondence, including Stefania Mria Różewicz’s  letter to Tadeusz from a time shortly before Christmas 1943.  A calendar page from 1957 notes on July 16, “Mom died today at 10:20 A.M.” In such moments words evidently reveal their imperfection, even those of a poet even as great as Różewicz.


Congeniality Effect

In his contemporary poetry the author expresses the unrests and embitterments of a generation defined by wartime. In line with his experiences in the Home Army, Różewicz shows a world of relative values with man objectified and dominated by biology or technology. The I-speaker in his poems is a disintegrated personality, devoid of self and lost in a world of collapsing form.

His poems reveal him as a skeptic defiant to the world order rather than one of despair.  Piotr Lachmann remarked that Różewicz’s poetry achieved a congeniality effect (as opposed to Brecht's alienation effect). Before Lachman's cameras Różewicz stated his “Discourse about the Void”:

…The Void rages. Completeness doesn't have to. The void has to make itself visible. The void in which biology struggles. The devil is also a void – its strength lies in the fact that you cannot grasp it, it doesn't have a form. And this void is growing. And what happens in it: the most complicated weaponry as yet unseen by any man. Biologically (…) Syphilis or cancer do not threaten or scare us as much as AIDS. Committees gather to recommend the use of condoms, which in turn are forbidden by the Holy Congregation. All this beguiles our life.

Różewicz saw the film during a multimedia evening prepared by Jolanta Lothe and Piotr Lachmann in the Videotheatre Poza in 2003. He read poems from his Szara strefa (The Grey Zone), trying to convince the audience, “I'm not a philosopher, I'm intuitive.” He dismissed congratulations on his acting skill by saying, “I wasted that talent.” Nevertheless, Różewicz demonstrated an excellent feel of the stage during a soiree in the National Theater in 1998:

…What is first? Writing? No. Reading is first. When you're my age, you begin to feel that what you read is equally important to what you write. Sometimes more important, more interesting. Poetic soirees should change. Whenever I listen to my poems read by somebody else, I get the urge to correct them. Or to read somebody else's. I recently came back to Demons by Dostoyevsky, maybe after forty years. There is a genial masterpiece of a description of a soiree. An old writer Karmazinov – whose character was inspired by Turgieniev – he cannot finish reading his “Merci, Merci” humoresque… He read, and read until the young people started teasing him. I was quite abashed by the whole description.

He started reading Staff's Mickiewicz but stopped after the first stanza because of someone's cellphone signal. “Please leave!” sounded the voices from the audience. “Who's to leave? Me? I won't go,” protested the poet. “Where's the fire brigade? Police? Security?”

“Where's good breeding?” came a question from the audience. The owner of the ringing phone finally left. “We had a nice break,” the poet didn't lose his composure. “So now, I will read my poem ‘Where evil comes from’…” At that moment the silence was interrupted by the sound of a camera shutter. The poet stopped reading again. The whole situation seemed straight out of The Scattered File.

Derisive Humility

His bitter account with the contemporary past, as it tries in vain to find itself in the chaos of contemporary life, is illustrated in his dramas. His debut play The Card Index (written in the years 1958-1959) is a pinnacle achievement in the cannon of post-war drama, opening an emergence of new staging possibilities in Poland and beyond.

The play was published under censorship in the Dialogue magazine (02/1960), and later along withThe Green Rose by the National Publishing Institute in 1961. The full uncensored version was only published by Integral Arts in Wrocław 1972. The play first premiered in 1960 in the Dramatical Theater in Warsaw under the direction of Wanda Laskowska.

As Zbigniew Majchrowski remarked, The Card Index is contemporary to The Teutonic Knights in that it was written before man went to space, before the Second Council of Vatican, before the erection of the Berlin Wall and the career of the Beatles.

The strength of the play is the derisive humility the character feels towards himself, and Różewicz towards his character – wrote Jan Błoński. The gibberish in which the author often drowns the action, has a method and aim – a refusal of tragism. Only mockery can save our clear-headedness  and thus our freedom… The author evokes an unclear but undefeated hope which he kept at the bottom of his heart. – [Tadeusz Różewicz The Card Index. The Scattered file, Kraków 1997]

The Card Index consists of two images: the internal emptiness of the Character and a flood of phenomenae, people and objects that flows through his room. No other play has changed the face of European drama to the degree that The Card Index has. Since it first premiered its formal novelty has never lost perspicuity, nor has the complicated, firmly Polish subject-matter hindered the play from entering stages abroad. There is nary a season when The Card Index is not published or staged somewhere in the world.

Różewicz's debut play became a classic of theatrical avant-garde, a vivid form of theatre that touches upon the crux contemporary problems. However Konrad Swinarski, who directed the play twice, in 1965 in Tel Aviv and two years later for the Television Theater (with Tadeusz Łomnicki as the Character), muses that it lacks a proper ending:

"If Różewicz only dared to write one more final scene," he said in 1973, “then The Card Indexwould be a contemporary play. It is written in a beautiful language, it has both literary culture and tradition, it's both sensual and political it has everything I value in a play, nevertheless it has no continuation."

The Chronic Forerunner

Tadeusz Różewicz in the lens of Janusz Drzewucki – Image Gallery

The Scattered File fulfills Swiniarski's demand and authors the idea of a “play written on stage.” Różewicz experimented to repeat the phenomenon of the Card Index in the free speech reality brought by the Third Republic.

Thus the Scattered File came about, a cycle of open rehearsals which the author directed and played with the actors from November 17 to December 2, 1992 on the camera stage of the Polish Theater in Wrocław. Apart from minor changes in the text, most of it are extracts from newspapers, the sermons of Skarga or speeches by Piłsudski.

The actors brought newspaper articles. One Card Index text about beer grew to be seven. The construction of the play on stage mad its record a lot longer than the canonical version. However, none of the rehearsals of the Scattered File covered everything that was printed in the book.

It was a time of subversive topics such as the illegal trade of human organs, or the argument of the rabbis to give their seal of approval for kosher vodka produced in Polish distilleries. An entire poem is comprised of newspaper adverts. There's another, especially ironic, poem composed of fragments of parliamentary debates. Różewicz, a chronic forerunner, proved that with the disappearance of censorship a new habit came about – uncontrolled garrulity and verbosity. He had found the danger and mocked it in a pastiche of parliamentary debates dominated by empty routine and formalities.

The formal experiment of the Scattered File did not in any way disrupt the integrity and timelessness of the first version. The record of the play gives directors a whole new range of texts which can be scattered and used anew. In 1998 Kazimierz Kutz brilliantly brought the play to the Television Theatre with a highly suggestive vision of the Character, as played both by  Jerzy Trela and Krzysztof Globisz, entangled between past and present in the political and mental transformations.

The Wise Man in a Jester's Mask

No one smuggles tradition on stage as successfully and in such a novel way as Różewicz. Although his tradition has been unfairly neglected and ridiculed, the previous century does not know an instance of such an influential Polish writer.

The strength of the author's art lies in the ability to combine opposites. On one hand he uses a classical, sophisticated form, but implements it to deliver fresh and unconventional content. He also performs the same strategy in reverse: subjects from the past are often given innovative forms of expression, so that his creations are ambiguous, disturbing and universal at once.

His plays feature a duality of characters who come from the intelligent class (however, he also finds room for simple peasants, like Waluś in Do piachu or Wrona in The Card Index). Personages whose noble duties (God, honour, fatherland) have been questioned in the post-yaltan reality and doomed to failure; futile, eternal rebellion; or giving up and opportunistically subjugating oneself to illusory comforts; these were all visible in the drama, “Witnesses or our little stabilization.”

Few can deal with the media as well as Różewicz. However, deeming his creations journalistic would be a gross simplification. As a clear-sighted observer and amateur of the press he subjugates the intake of news to artistic treatment. Under his penmanship they become metaphors for the fate of the contemporary man. In line with the romantic traditon Różewicz both disdains and admires, everyone can find a reflection of their own life in his characters as they are anchored in the specifics of history.

In the play He Left the House, forty-year old Ewa, anxious about her husband’s long absence, calls for the police. She and her daughter Gizela have difficulties giving a description: “Daddy was nondescript, not much like anything, like everyone.” Meanwhile the amnesia-stricken Henryk wanders around town, finally reaching a cemetery where he is witness to an excellent “Shakespearean” scene: two undertakers over a grave where lies “at one time a martyr, at another a knave.” Afterward he comes back home, merrily lacking the memory. However, his wife soon starts to “educate” him, filling his head with judgments and stereotypes. Henryk absorbs the cliches compliently, but later comes back to his senses to again leave the house.

Różewicz’s dramaturgy has a renewable value thanks to the irony infused in the obstacles of his plays. Year after year these works affirm his prophetic talent. In each rendition, his predictions regarding the destruction of the natural environment arouse as much emotion as they did in the premiere. The vision of trash falling through the cafe windows in A Woman Sits remains terrifying. Although we have made some progress since the play was written, the world is still heading towards self-annihilation – war continues, environmental issues continues to dominate the news.

On All Fours tells the story of an old infantile writer, who like the brilliant French painter Maurice Utrille, is happiest about his electric train. Laurent's fun is disturbed by the overprotective maid Pelasia and the swarm of intruders who want to bask in his glory. His office will soon be invaded by “The Girl” who presumably wants to write a dissertation. However, she doesn't spare any efforts to seduce him, quickly becoming his wife and heiress. The dead Laurenty will still be sipping Pelasias soup in his apartment – now turned into a museum — where the Widow shows the Profane around telling completely delusive stories.

Różewicz’s works often annoy, provoke, and occasionally incite outrage. The hyper-charged sexuality of the characters in his morally subversive and pioneering White Wedding tore apart the atmosphere of an old gentry manor, in which to girls became women. The erotic staffage – now really naive – provoked a critical outcry, among them party members such as Atrur Sandauer. Meanwhile the first post-war topless scene, with Barbara Sułkowska as Paulina under the direction of Tadeusz Minc, brought crowds of spectators to The Small Theater.

Do Piachu earned itself a bad reputation among the Home Army veterans. Różewicz describes guerrilla life, but without the patriotic highs, presenting what other often fail to mention: the mud, dirt, lice, blood, poor quality food, the disconnection from our close ones, the absence of women, the severe discipline. Waluś, a village peasant who dreams of seeing Kraków and Częstochowa, comes back from a predatory excursion. His two superiors who took part in it have made off with the loot. The commanders focus their anger on the boy with animal treatment to which he uncertainly obeys. Różewicz’s anti-epic about anti-heroes, the absurdities of war and the dehumanization it causes, futile sacrifice in the name of a restrictive law, caring for thy neighbor, his pain, suffering and death, probes the boundaries of human debasement and sacrifice.

The outrage of the veteran milieu that broke out after the first two stagings of the play (by Tadeusz Łomnicki in the Warsaw Teatr Na Woli in 1979 and Kazimierz Kutza The Television Theater in 1991) caused the author to place limitations on access to his works. Of late, only Janusz Opryński and Witold Mazurkiewicz have succeeded of late, on behalf of from the Provisorium Theater and the Theater Company in Lublin, in 2003.

Neither scandal nor subversiveness alone necessitates greatness, as some worshipers of theatrical currents may assert; these qualities must be supported by artistic justification.

The contents of the play Trelemorele can be best summed up in the subtitle: “A soap opera for public and private television.” Różewicz blantantly undermines the language of the medium that in attempt to be endearing ultimately becomes jibberish mixed with a dose of kitsch and perversity. The family in front of the set consumes the medley of images that flow out of debilitating game shows, infantile commercials, imbecile series and unreliable news. A nervous walk among the channels doesn't change anything. Everywhere it is the same thing, equally nauseous and hopeless.

The timelessness of his plays, avant-garde in form and rebellious in content, is also not confirmed by the frequency in which these works are staged. Despite being a few decades old they retain a contemporary bite. With bitter irony they show the everyday life of the Warsaw intelligence, as seen by one of the most clear-sighted annalists of Polish reality in recent history.

His plays provoke imagination with a metaphorical, intelligent and often razor-sharp language. The longevity of those plays abroad indicates that his language resonates with an international audience.

Różewicz addresses the most serious matters in a fickly, roguish manner, a subversive, who like Stańczyk, dons the jester's mask to shamelessly hit you in the face with the truth.

Author: Janusz R. Kowalczyk, July 2013.


Editor at Culture.pl since 2009, specializes in literature. Graduate of: theatre studies and film studies at the Jagiellonian University, a part-time screenwriting course at the National Film School in Łódź. Artist of the cabaret Piwnica pod Baranami (1978-1987), theatre critic for "Rzeczpospolita" (1990-2009). Awards: Zbigniew Raszewski Prize, a grant from the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage. Author of "Wracając do moich Baranów" (published by Trio, 2012), a book about the Piwnica pod Baranami cabaret, and more.





Happily Ever After – Best Play, Best Director, Best Actress and Best Actor!DC Metro Theater Arts

Congratulations to the entire team of "Happily Ever after" by Cristina Colmena for receiving such honors from DC Metro Theater Arts:

Best Play, Best Director, Best Actress and Best Actor!

Go Team, Karin Rosnizeck, Doug Krehbel, and all staff and crew, YOU ALL ROCK!!!!!

Thank you DC Metro Theater Arts for such great honors!