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“Harper” from Kielce as a moving study of a woman who has had a tough life


Although Grzegorz Wiśniewski is a celebrated director who has received numerous awards—among them the most prestigious Swinarski Award for his staged in Gdańsk play “Fall of the Gods”—he is not considered one of Poland’s top directors. How can that be? Perhaps it is because he rarely stages his plays at theatres considered to be the most esteemed venues. A long-time collaborator with the Wybrzeże Theatre in Gdańsk and Stefan Jaracz Theatre in Łódź, Wiśniewski staged his most successful productions there, as well as in Toruń and at the National Film School in Łódź, the most prominent school of its kind in Poland. He used to carry out lots of work for the Powszechny Theatre in Warsaw, and his plays were shown at the Studio Theatre and the National Theatre (the highly overrated “Queen Margot”), but the director never really felt he would fit in in the Polish capital. Still, he works regularly and intensively, even if fame and publicity are low on his list of personal priorities. I have caught myself believing that Wiśniewski is, you might say, a tried and true director. When I head out to see his plays performed, I usually know what to expect, i.e. productions in which people—the characters and the actors—play the key role; productions, in which intense emotions, even ones that may be disturbing, dominate on the stage floor. It is a theatre that offers a close-up shot of the human being; one that is deeply interested in the entire human experience. Typically, it is inspired by great pieces of literature, challenging the prevailing claim that theatre has come to an end and that staging plays as obsolete pieces with a rigid structure and

composition no longer makes any sense. Wiśniewski believes in the power of the theatre, which works pretty well for him. He has staged Bernhard, Mayenburg, Witkacy, Czechow, Williams, Ibsen and Sigariew; many titles and many productions, both better and worse ones. His name has nevertheless become a trademark, as the director never fails to disappoint his audience with a play unworthy of their attention.

Performed at the Żeromski Theatre in Kielce, “Harper” is a prime example of Wiśniewski’s approach to the texts he stages. The drama was written by a British playwright, with whom the Polish audience has already become acquainted with (“Motortown”, “Pornography” or the successful adaptation of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”, which was performed at the Dramatyczny Theatre in Warsaw). It could have been staged in its conventional form, taking into consideration all the rules imposed by realism. It would have been a story of Harper’s tragic journey, as she abandons her home, workplace and city in order to see her dying father. During her odyssey, she meets many different people, hurts some of them and sleeps with someone. Transformed by it, she returns back to her everyday life. The play performed in Kielce is similar, but somehow completely different. Wiśniewski seems to be staging the very same text, but he repeats some of the sequences, while cutting others to the bone. He introduces the same characters multiple times so that they appear to be a dreadful vision in the head of the distressed protagonist, making the figures merely unrealistic silhouettes. The story is so powerful because seems to be a nightmare that has gained live coverage. Then again, the intense storyline dissolves and we are faced with and oneiric vision, as if we were witnessing a dream played over and over again with ghastly regularity. I have not read “Harper”, but I suppose that it is not as gripping as the production staged at Żeromski Theatre. The reason for this is that the director focuses exclusively on the protagonist, intensifying her emotional states and always taking her side. As and effect, the story gains a more universal dimension. The Harper from Kielce resembles a woman who in her daily routine has hit a brick wall, but has still mustered enough courage to realise the fact. She is and everywoman—or and everyman, as gender plays no significant role in this case—on the brink of an emotional breakdown.

In Kielce, Harper is portrayed by Magda Grąziowska, who used to play Zosia in “Pan Tadeusz” staged by Mikołaj Grabowski at the National Stary Theatre, and also appeared frequently at the Bagatela Theatre in Kraków. The actress is younger than Harper in Stephens’ play, but this only gives her strength. She has matured, experienced the hardships of life and became aware of her failures quicker. This makes Harper’s story exceptionally upsetting and it is by far more difficult for us to maintain emotional distance. Grąziowska contributes further to this feeling, as she almost never leaves the stage. The Harper she plays is charming and graceful. She has a bright smile and a girly figure, which makes her the proverbial girl next door, with whom everyone would want to spend as much time as possible. Only after a while do we notice the desperate struggle behind her smile and friendly demeanour. Harper escapes because she wants to live life to the fullest and be charged with real emotions. This is why she favours striking up brief acquaintances, engaging in sex and violence. Absolutely brilliant in her portrayal of Harper, Grąziowska accepts everything with and expression of surprise and trust on her face, leaving the viewer somewhat concerned. At the end of the play she is no longer the same character. She has come a long way.

In “Harper” the protagonist plays the first fiddle. However, the rest of the cast in Kielce has also stepped up to the challenge. I was most impressed by Wojciech Niemczyk, whose flexibility as and actor and ability to switch from and aggressive role to a passive one Wiśniewski took full advantage of. Anna Antoniewicz plays the young Sarah, boldly expressing her inner rebellion and doubt. It is crucial to mention that this was the first time Wiśniewski collaborated with Mirek Kaczmarek in Kielce, who is responsible for the outstanding stage design. It combines the sterile, realistic interior of a hospital with a strong accent that allows the play to be set in a completely different, not at all obvious space. The entire play is mysterious, unforgettable, and largely fascinating just like its stage design.

Dziennik, Gazeta Prawna

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Urzd Marszakowski Wojewdztwa witokrzyskiego
Ministerstwo Kultury i Dziedzictwa Narodowego
Teatr im. Stefana eromskiego w Kielcach jest jednostk organizacyjn Samorzdu Wojewdztwa witokrzyskiego wspprowadzon przez Ministerstwo Kultury i Dziedzictwa Narodowego.