The Odyssey Theatre Ensemble presents Warsaw's Studium/Teatralne in the American premiere of an epic new drama about the nightmare of war and the timeless power of human devotion. Piotr Borowski directs The King of Hearts Is Off Again for five performances only, from October 5 through October 14 at the Odyssey Theatre in West Los Angeles.
"There was a family." With these words an actor begins the harrowing story of Izolda, a woman separated from her husband by the nightmare of World War 2. Based on a popular novel by Polish writer Hanna Krall, four actors, playing twenty characters on a bare stage, transport the audience to WWII and into our heroine's epic journey through the monstrosities of war. Victimized as a Jew, a Pole, and a woman, Izolda escapes the cruelties of the ghetto and disguises herself as an Aryan German citizen in order to save her husband from the concentration camps. Facing unimaginable situations, love becomes her sole means of survival as her own identity becomes obsolete.
"I was born, raised, and went to school in the same place where Izolda's house still stands," explains Studium/Teatralne Artistic Director Piotr Borowski, who also adapted and directed The King of Hearts Is Off Again. "During my childhood and youth, Polish Jews were rarely mentioned as part of our country's history. Even now, for many Poles this remains an extraordinarily difficult topic to understand with any kind of rationality. I felt that by creating this theatre piece I could open up a dialog about this history."
Using only a table, chairs, and a few props, the actors deploy an inventive arsenal of extreme and precise physical performance techniques "to catch the life of the characters," explains Borowski. When asked if his physical work with actors was influenced by Jerzy Grotowski, Borowski replies, "I met Grotowski in 1975 and later worked with him for seven years in Pontedera, Italy. He accompanies me very often. It's hard to define what profit I took from his work. In his speeches and texts Grotowski always encouraged everyone to go their own way, to find their own technique, and to do it with their whole existence. He was always trying to respond to the spirit of his time. Like Grotowski I ask questions about the meaning of what I am doing, about its techniques, about my needs and the ethic of it all. They're the same questions Grotowski asked, only the time is different, because my time is the present."
After working with Grotowski in Italy from 1987-1994, Borowski returned to Poland, converting an old factory building in the Ptraga Poludnie district of Warsaw into a theatre workspace. During the theatre's seventeen-year history, Borowski and his company have continued to explore different forms of theatrical expression through such productions as "Miasto" (City) (1997), "Pó?noc" (Midnight) (1999), "Cz?owiek" (Man) (2001), "Parsifal" (2004), "Hamlet" (2005), "Henryk Hamlet Hospital (H. H. H.)" (2006), "Linia Powrotu" (The Line of Return) (2010), and the 2008 production of "Król kier znów na wylocie" (King of Hearts Is Off Again), now opening at the Odyssey for its American premiere. Studium Teatralne has toured extensively in Poland, Russia, Italy, Germany, France, and Colombia. Piotr Borowski, the Founder and Artistic Director, has also directed this production.
The cast of The King of Hearts Is Off Again includes Piotr Aleksandrowicz, Gianna Benvenuto, Waldemar Chachólski, and Martina Rampulla. Utilized throughout the performance is music based on the motifs of John Zorn. "Zorn's music is old and contemporary, light and deep at the same time," says Borowski. "As Poland was, for centuries, home to the largest and most significant Jewish community in the world, I wanted the musical element to express this vast span of time. Consequently, numerous musical motifs are frequently repeated and intermixed with other melodies, rhythms and chants."
Ron Sossi, the Odyssey Theatre's Artistic Director, is overjoyed to be presenting the work of the Studium Teatralne. Not only is Sossi generally keen in presenting foreign companies whenever possible but, interestingly, Sossi also met Grotowski in the early 70's and worked with him one summer in 1976. "It seems most fitting that this company, another greatly influenced by the legacy of Grotowski, should be presenting its work at the Odyssey. We couldn't be happier."
Special thanks to the Polish Ministry of Culture, Malgorzata Cup, Cultural Attache of the Polish Consulate in Los Angeles, and Joanna Klass of the Adam Mickiewicz Institute in Warsaw for making possible this visit of Studium Teatraline to Los Angeles.
The show runs according to the following schedule, October 5 through October 14, 2012:
Tuesday @ 8 pm: October 9
Thursday @ 8 pm: October 11
Friday @ 8 pm: October 5 (Opening Night)
Sunday @ 7 pm: October 7, 14