presented by Teatr Provisorium & Kompania Teatr
based on the novel by Witold Gombrowicz
adapted by Teatr Provisorium & Kompania Teatr
directed by Witold Mazurkiewicz and Janusz Oprynski
new translation by Danuta Borchardt
english version by Allen Kuharski
scenography is by Jerzy Rudzki
music is composed by Borys Somerschaf
featuring Jacek Brzezinski, Witold Mazurkiewicz, Jaroslaw Tomica & Michal Zgiet
light and sound design is by Janusz Oprynski & Jan Szamryk

Performance Schedule:
November 8th - 25th, 2001
Thursday - Sunday 8:00pm
Sunday Matinee 2:30pm
Sunday Matinees in Polish
The First Floor Theatre

New York Times Review
Nov 17, 2001
New York Times Preview Nov 11, 2001
nytheatre.com review Nov 10, 2001

La MaMa E.T.C. in association with The Polish Cultural Institute present a stage adaptation of the renowned Polish writer Witold Gombrowicz's long-neglected book, banned for decades in communist Poland, and performed now by Poland's leading alternative theatre company, the award-winning Teatr Provisorium & Kompania Teatr -- returns to New York following its one-week engagement last year at Raw Space, and its more recent run this summer at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, where the English-language production won a "Fringe First Award" and rave reviews in the British press.

FERDYDURKE is based on Gombrowicz's first novel, a satirical work and cult classic since it was first published in 1937, described as "one of the forgotten treasures of 20th century literature" - has been captivating audiences worldwide since 1998 when Teatr Provisorium & Kompania Teatr debuted their production in Lublin, subsequently performing the play in Italy, Austria, Czech Republic, Ukraine, Yugoslavia, Romania and elsewhere in Europe. The celebrated Polish critic Jan Kott was instrumental in bringing FERDYDURKE to the U.S., where it was given its American premiere at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, followed by productions in Philadelphia, New York, San Diego, and Los Angeles prior to traveling to the U.K. and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.In FERDYDURKE, a repressed 30-year-old writer is sent back as an adult to re-experience his school days, his fatal attraction to a fashionable college girl, his best friend's crush on a peasant boy, and other episodes from his past. The tale's crazy schoolboy antics indeed disguise a deeper social conflict and ridicule aristocratic values. In his review of FERDYDURKE last year at Raw Space, Village Voice critic Charles McNulty wrote that this production "provides a dizzying theatrical enactment of the novel…like the vertiginous offerings of Richard Foreman or the Wooster Group, all you really need to do is strap yourself down and enjoy the ride. In Gombrowicz's world, ideals are countered with lusting flesh and freedom is a tormenting fiction whether at school or in the country, where one of the young men falls in love with an uneducated stable boy." According to translator Kuharski, "ferdydurke" is a Polish nonsense word for "fiddle-faddle", and the play celebrates "the nasty, inner-child" whose sheer lack of manners allows an assault on personal and political conservatism. In the Time Out New York article, Kuharski said, "Gombrowicz's most powerful political weapon is his humor. That's why he was banned."

FERDYDURKE stops in New York as part of a U.S. national tour with dates in Philadelphia, Salt Lake City, Princeton and Bloomington, Indiana through March 2002.ABOUT WITOLD GOMBROWICZ
Recognized by international theatre artists and scholars as one of the 20th century's greatest playwrights, the works of Witold Gombrowicz (1904-1969) have been staged in over 30 countries, yet remain little-known and rarely-produced in English, despite Gombrowicz's influence on better-known Polish theatre artists such as Tadeusz Kantor. In fact, Gombrowicz's work has enjoyed newfound popularity internationally in the past 10 years, long after his death in 1969. For years in his native Poland, Gombrowicz's works were un-produced due to censorship. In life, the playwright was openly bisexual, Catholic-born, anti-clerical, pro-Semitic and anti-establishment, and his plays were banned from the Polish stage until the mid-1970's, while he, in fact, lived in self-imposed exile first in Argentina and later in France. His works rankled the establishment with their irreverent, dissident views and homoerotic content, serving up a lively blend of religious satire, class struggle and scatological humor. In fact, in an interview last year in Time Out New York, FERDYDURKE translator Allen Kuharski described Gombrowicz as "Poland's counterpart to Jean Genet, but with Joe Orton's sense of humor." In his review of FERDYDURKE in the Village Voice last year, critic Charles McNulty called Gombrowicz's work "unbeatable sources of absurdist adrenaline."Gombrowicz's most famous play, IVONA, PRINCESS OF BURGUNDIA, was recently staged by Ingmar Bergman for Sweden's National Theatre, and will be presented in March 2002 by Theatre Exile in Philadelphia. His play THE MARRIAGE was produced this year at the Comédie Française in Paris.In his review last year of FERDYDURKE in the Los Angeles Times, critic Philip Brandes praised the company's "raucous presentational style of Polish avant-garde theater" and its "highly physicalized expressionistic style, which renders unfiltered emotions with impressive, universal precision."

New York Times Preview
November 11, 2001
by Merilyn Jackson

'Ferdydurke': In Honor of Wildness and Wit
Witold Gombrowicz, the Polish-born playwright, novelist, diarist and iconoclast, earned a reputation as a scandalous genius in Poland, though he lived in self-imposed exile in Argentina for 24 years after being stranded there when Hitler invaded his country.Gombrowicz (pronounced gom-BROH-veetch) had Rabelais in his DNA and his literary antecedents wend back through Alfred Jarry's "Ubu Roi" to Molière. Born in 1904, he was a leftist, anticlerical bisexual whose writings use brutal wit and outrageous sexual commentary to ridicule authority and class distinctions. His themes of infantilization and mutual debasement opposed all party lines and his books were banned in Communist Poland.Although his works have been translated into many languages and his plays produced in 30 countries, Gombrowicz is perhaps best known in America for his first novel, "Ferdydurke," which was published in Polish in 1937, and for his play "Ivona, Princess of Burgundia," which characteristically lampoons aristocratic pretensions and was often performed in the 1960's in the United States. In the early 1960's he moved to France, where he died in 1969.In the satirical play "Ferdydurke," adapted from the novel, the inner wild child that Gombrowicz celebrated is in full view. Two recently merged Polish theater companies from Lublin — Teatr Provisorium and Kompania Teatr — considered the country's leading alternative troupe, have transformed "Ferdydurke" into a tumultuous evening of physical theater for four performers. The production, directed by Janusz Oprynski and Witold Mazurkiewicz, opens tonight at La Mama for two weeks, the first stop on a six-city American tour. (Performances are in English, except for the matinees today and next Sunday at 2:30 p.m., both of which will be in Polish.) Last year, the production had a one-week run in New York before eventually arriving at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, where it won a Fringe First Award. In "Ferdydurke" (a nonsense word pronounced fehr-dih-DORK-eh), Josef, a 30-year-old writer (portrayed by Mr. Mazurkiewicz) is forced by his old professor, Pimko (Jacek Brzezinski), to return to high school. There he regresses to a 16-year-old and, from an adult perspective, experiences the agonies of adolescence, including crude schoolyard taunts and farcical wrestling matches. In one well-known scene in the book that is incorporated into the play, Josef's pals Mietus (Michal Zgiet) and Siphon (Jaroslaw Tomica) duel with each other, their only weapons grotesque facial grimaces and alternately pious or obscene gestures.Mr. Tomica and Mr. Zgiet performed for years with the experimental Polish theater ensemble Gardzienice, whose work is influenced by the teachings of the renowned Polish-born director Jerzy Grotowski. Speaking about the two performers' antic physicality and precise acting style, which requires split-second timing, Mr. Tomica emphasized that "Gombrowicz's text and our grounding in puppet theater link us to Kantor." He was referring to the seminal Polish theater director Tadeusz Kantor, who created an acting style inspired by puppet movement.In the production of "Ferdydurke," the tight, rapid- fire choreography among the four characters often positions them no farther than three feet from one another. At the same time, the meaning of the text is often conveyed by the movements and gestures of the highly animated actors. For example, in one passage in the novel, Josef peeps at a young girl disrobing just before he is asked to recite a poem in iambic pentameter. He declaims: "Thighs, thighs, thighs. Thighs, thighs; thighs, thighs . . ." In Provisorium and Kompania's Expressionistic interpretation of the same scene onstage, two pairs of bare male legs framed in a window transmit the meaning but also upend it at the same time. The English version of the play is by Allen Kuharski, the director of theater studies at Swarthmore College. Mr. Kuharski, who first saw "Ferdydurke" in a Polish-language production in Poland in 1981, said, "It was one of the funniest things I ever saw, and I knew I wanted to bring it to American audiences."Another admirer of Gombrowicz's prose, the German novelist Günter Grass, wrote "The Tin Drum" 30 years after "Ferdydurke" and the two works are sometimes compared. "The action in `The Tin Drum' mirrors that in `Ferdydurke,' " Mr. Kuharski said, "but it's a flip side, with Oscar, who never grows up," versus "Josef, condemned to return to adolescence." To Gombrowicz, arrested development in adolescence, with its heated and ambiguous sexual fumblings, was a far crueler fate.

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New York Times Review
November 14, 2001
by Bruce Weber

A Polish Provocateur Trashes Decorum

Nose-thumbing outrageousness is the leading spirit of "Ferdydurke," the 1937 satirical novel by the Polish writer Witold Gombrowicz. And it is a quality that is more than preserved in the stage adaptation of that book being presented at La MaMa through Nov. 25.

Gombrowicz, a playwright as well as a novelist and a leading literary provocateur, was a wicked and rebellious foe of conservatism of every stripe. When he died in 1969, his works had been banned in Poland for 30 years; they were restored in the mid-1970's, but his uncensored complete works became available in his homeland only after 1989. "Ferdydurke," his first novel, tells the story of a 30-year-old man who is forced by a sadistic pedagogue to return to school, where he relives the terrors — and pleasures — of adolescence. What results on the page is a celebration of immaturity, a rant against the normal, a comic screed against dogma, conventional wisdom, doctrinaire or institutional thinking. Theaters have found the sentiments of the work stageworthy almost from the time it was written. As collaboratively adapted by two Polish troupes, Teatr Provisorium and Kompania Teatr (the text is by Allen J. Kuharski, a professor at Swarthmore), the production at La MaMa is intensely committed to indecorousness.The play is staged inside a box, a cage of sorts, a vitrine without the glass, and within it, often crammed together on a bench, the four actors spend much of the play climbing over, pressing against or physically tormenting one another. Thus is created a world of strange dimensions, a place where desires are cramped and bursting for expression: the uncomfortable, smelly, strenuous, contrary world of a teenager. The dialogue is deeply satiric and sometimes clever if never subtle."Great poetry, being great and being poetry, cannot help but enrapture us," a classroom pedant insists at the squirming students. One student declares back, "I am not enraptured." (Next Sunday's matinee will be performed in Polish; all others will be in English.)The setup is ripe for farce, and the actors, who deliver their lines in sputtery bellows and at such high volume that their voices begin to rasp by the end of the show's 80 minutes, are gifted comedians; an after-school brawl acted out only in facial scowls is not only funny but stunningly evocative.The four are particularly untimid when it comes to the play's gross-out humor. Bodily functions get a good workout in the show — one character is fond of blowing his nose into his fingers and using it as hair tonic — and sexuality, both homo- and hetero-, is heartily yearned for in the randiest fashion.What is intended is a riot against the normative. And there is no denying that the persistent assault on mannerliness becomes a forceful philosophical argument. Gombrowicz must have been especially potent as a subversive voice as Poland fell to the Nazis and during the decades of repression that followed. But it's awfully hard for a contemporary audience to feel immersed in the enforced conformity that the play reviles; our contemporary context attenuates the play's clout. Among other things, the adolescent sensibility is rather prevalent in our culture these days.The result is that what resonates instead of human irrepressibility is naughtiness, and after a short while flatulence ceases to represent an obstinate cry of independence and becomes just gas. In addition the unintended humor is that the actors' Eastern European accents and overblown delivery inevitably bring to mind the "wild and crazy guys" played by Steve Martin and Dan Aykroyd on "Saturday Night Live."So while it is possible to respect "Ferdydurke" for its once-upon-a-time power to irk and provoke, and to admire the unyielding, thorny spirit of the author, its prickly childishness doesn't seem quite so rebellious as it does, well, childish. And for that reason the play feels like an artifact.

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nytheatre.com review
November 10, 2001
by Martin Denton

Travel broadens; it's absolutely true. In this particular case, the joint memberships of the Polish avant-garde companies Teatr Provisorium and Kompania Teatr are the ones who traveled–thousands of miles, in fact, for a US tour that will eventually make stops in Philadelphia, Salt Lake City, Princeton, and Bloomington, Indiana. Yet it is the audience whose lives are immeasurably enhanced by these visitors: their intriguing, ingratiating play, Ferdydurke, offers Americans an opportunity to experience theatre as a sensate, visceral adventure. How edifying and welcome this is! Ferdydurke is a Polish nonsense word, equivalent to "fiddle faddle" in English, as good a title as any for the perverse and often scatological scenes and set pieces that comprise this play. The source material is a novel, published in 1937, by Witold Gombrowicz. I can't tell how like or unlike that work this show is, but I can tell you that if Ferdydurke the novel was banned for controversial content, its subversive spirit lives–gleefully unabashed–in Ferdydurke the play. At once a celebration and demonstration of the immediacy of theatrical storytelling, Ferdydurke takes us on a journey through time with its 30-year-old protagonist Joe as he relives his youth and rediscovers, well, discovery.We follow Joe into the classroom, where he is lectured at by a comically horrifying schoolmaster who literally pummels his lessons into his charges' heads. The teacher's modus operandi is for his students to receive wisdom, again quite literally: it doesn't matter whether the so-called beauty or meaning resonates or even makes sense; accepted values must be accepted because they're accepted.Joe lusts after a girl who is, socially speaking, too good for him. And his best friend lusts after a stable boy who is, clearly, nowhere near good enough for him. Neither relationship is allowed to persist; authority figures see to that.I'm not sure that Ferdydurke adds up to much more than an energetic assault on an arbitrary Establishment; but the experience of Ferdydurke in a dark room with these four remarkable actors (backed by their equally remarkable directors and designers) adds up to a great deal. It's a show to be seen and heard rather than explained, which is why I'm a bit at a loss to explain it. It feels vivid and raw and shocking, but never sensationalistic; it's alien and freeing, but neither oblique nor pretentious. I suspect that Jarry's Ubu Roi, which seems to me to be the direct lineal ancestor of Ferdydurke, caused similar reaction: an honest sense of wonder at the audacity and perverse naughtiness of what's depicted on stage.For this is a very naughty play. Sex of various varieties is alluded to throughout (and, in perhaps the most amazing scene, depicted with equal parts raunch and artfulness). Urination and defecation are simulated and what polite people call "passing wind" is the source of more jokes per capita this side of a Mel Brooks movie.Yet Ferdydurke is witty rather than skanky. We laugh, sure; but the overriding reaction is awe more than anything else: it's that well-crafted and that well-executed. The four actors–Jacek Brzezinski, Witold Mazurkiewicz, Jaroslaw Tomica, and Michal Zgiet–are astonishing in their dexterity and versatility, performing highly physical, highly complex choreography with heart-stopping agility. The text, adapted by Allen J. Kuharski, and the staging, by Mazurkiewicz and Janusz Oprynski, are deft and surprisingly accessible.We don't see enough of the rest of the world's theatre in this country (at least the rest of the non-English-speaking world's); Ferdydurke tantalizes us by suggesting what we might be missing. Don't let this one pass you by; and if you live in Philadelphia, Salt Lake City, Princeton, and Bloomington, that goes for you, too.
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