TUMOR BRAINIOWICZ

written by: Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz
translated by: Daniel Gerould
directed by: Brooke O'Harra
composed by: Brendan Connelly

Performance Schedule:
February 28th - March 10th, 2002
&
April 25th - May 5th, 2002
Thursday - Saturday 10:00pm
Sunday 5:30pm
The Club
$15.00


"Tumor Brainiowicz" (1920) by Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz, this jewel of the early Polish avant-garde, will be done with elements scored as an opera, with ten players, a dozen puppets of various kinds and five live musicians. It is the New York debut of Theatre of a Two-Headed Calf, a troupe founded by O'Harra and Connelly that was named after a well-known play by Witkiewicz.

The son of a Polish painter and a painter in his own right, S.I. Witkiewicz wrote over 30 plays between 1918 and his suicide in 1939. About a third of these are still unpublished. Yet Witkiewicz, who was practically ignored in his time and left no direct disciples, bestrides the avant-garde like a colossus, mysteriously arousing more excitement in young playwrights than practically any other 20th century writer, even O'Neill. His influence is perhaps magnified by the enthusiasm of European scholars, but his standing as progenitor of the avant-garde is unquestioned.

S.I. Witkiewicz is known for his outrageously extravagant scenes influenced by all kinds of cults and philosophical speculations. In "Tumor Brainiowicz," the overriding spirit is mathematics. The play was largely inspired by the life of Polish mathematician Georg Cantor, who proved infinity to be an actual value (as opposed to a more vague notion of the inestimable, or a philosophical concept of "nothing beyond") and died in a mental institution in 1918. There is more than a little truth to the struggle described in this play, since the mathematical establishment of Europe didn't exactly want Cantor to succeed. With this play, Witkiewicz compares mathematical genius to the artistic kind. Brainiowicz' growing understanding of infinity is compared to a tumor which proliferates while the genius is subjected to a barrage of plots, subterfuges and attempts to steal "the power of math."

The daring, formative plays of S.I. Witkiewicz, including "The Metaphysics of a Two-Headed Calf" and "The Water Hen," have cast a long shadow over modernism and the avant-garde, but it's nearly impossible to find anything written on "Tumor Brainiowicz." It is virtually unknown in the English-speaking countries. But its style and viewpoint are Witkiewicz to a "W": it is filled with disturbing reflections on Man's existence, often delivered in dialogue whose madcap effervescence defies rational interpretation. In Witkiewicz' crazy, menacing world, scientists (like priests) are strange madmen, horrifying violence alternates with portentous scenes of inaction, and the universe is generally collapsing into ruins. All is imbued with the doctrine of "pure form," a concept that was passionately publicized by the Futurists, Cubists and defiant artists of Krakow.

In this production, there are puppets doubling all the main characters and puppets playing crowd scenes. The directorial philosophy is to illustrate the scale of events--part of the inner mathematical structure of the piece, which actually mirrors the math of the play with the "pure form" S.I. Witkiewicz claims to have derived from masterpieces of other arts, including the novels of Joseph Conrad. There is always an idea of a narrative, but not a "clean" one, since the structure itself is deconstructed and this overshadows everything. To director Brooke O'Harra, it is more important to theatrically exploit the author's structure than his narrative, since the greater meaning of the play lies there. For the audience, the experience of "Tumor Brainiowicz" should be sort of like "feeling" the world of the mathematician, including the texture of his relationships to other people (who are trying to suck him dry) and to his own mind.

The musicians are on stage the entire time and are a collective "character". They are in costume, sometimes move around, sometimes speak and are always an ominous/comical presence. This idea stems from S.I. Witkiewicz's use of crowds in his plays, which stand or move in unison, but never speak. (This "device" is also used in a later play, "Dainty Shapes and Hairy Apes.")

The music in the production is derived directly from the deep structure of the play. In fact, the performance was originally conceived as a series of movement sequences created from only the stage directions. O'Harra and composer Brendan Connelly extracted long and often impossible sets of stage actions from the body of the text and strung them together. Connelly then scored each set of actions which, when staged, would become Movement Sequences. These sequences each have a set of motions, each labeled with a letter (from "a" to "e", for example). O'Harra and Connelly then rearranged and repeated these letters until they found a pattern that best told the story of the characters. For instance, in the first act, they used an additive structure of a-a-b-a-b-c-a-b-c-d-a-b-c-d.

Describing the "style" of the music, Connelly writes, "I deal a lot with boxed figures, which means the musician is given a set of notes and has a certain amount of freedom to improvise with these notes. The intention is that the music changes every time it is played and the actors must react to and interact with these changes. I have chosen musicians with experience in improvisation and their ability to exchange ideas and build on what I have given them is a great asset to the 'life' of a scene."

Director Brooke O'Harra, 27, has the theatrical devotion of a religious extremist and the speaking style of a child genius. She studied Japanese theater in Tokyo, where she lived for two years, performed in a Butoh company and ran a street theater company. It was there that she first became devoted to S.I. Witkiewicz, by being immersed in a Tokyo theater festival devoted to the author. She is also a Tulane MFA graduate and her New Orleans productions include directing Witkiewicz' "The Madmen and the Nun" for Madame Palmetto's Entertainment Company at the Rooster Theater. While enrolled at Tulane, Ms. O'Harra worked in Prague at the Komedie Divadlo as an assistant to director Jan Nebesky. She has been a Drama League Directing fellow at the Hangar Theatre in Ithaca, NY. She has also directed productions of "Hedda Gabler," "The Maids" and "The Successful Life of 3," has been Assistant Director to Scott Shattuck at the Jean Cocteau Repertory in NYC, and has trained with the Bread and Puppet Theater.

Translator Daniel Gerould is one of the world's preeminent scholars on eastern European theater. He is Lucille Lortel Distinguished Professor of Theatre and Comparative Literature at The Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He has translated the plays of S.I. Witkiewicz and written books and articles about twentieth-century avant-garde theatre. He is the author of "Guillotine: Its Legend and Lore," "Theatre/Theory/Theatre," and editor of Slavic and Eastern European Performance and of the Polish and Eastern European Theatre Archives. His play, "Candaules, Commissioner," was presented Off-Broadway and in Europe.

Composer Brendan Connelly collaborates steadily with director Brooke O'Harra and is co-founder, with her, of Theatre of a Two-headed Calf. Other recent sound design/composer credits include the "Amargo Trilogy," created and directed by Ian Belton and most recently presented as a workshop at the New York Theater Workshop. Connelly is also Head of Development of Wet Ink Musics, a New York-based non-profit presenting organization dedicated to the promotion and presentation of new music. He was born in Queens, New York.

The title character will be played by Brian Bickerstaff, who recently appeared in The Club at La MaMa in "Dickplay" by Jack Bump. Bickerstaff has acted in three productions at Gale Gates et. al., most recently "So Long Ago I Can't Remember." He spent last year in Richard Foreman's "Bad Boy Nietsche," both in NY and abroad. He is a stalwart member of the theater company Collapsible Giraffe (an outgrowth of The Wooster Group) and has recently also begun working with Combustive Arts in its new space in Brooklyn.

Puppet makers are Candy Ellison and Misako Takashima. Set is by Peter Wahlberg; lighting is by Ben Fox; costume design is by Carol Cutshall. The players are Brian Bickerstaff, Mary Bonner Baker, Rob Marcato, Matt Shapiro, Mary Regan, Nicky Paraiso, Zakia Babb-Bornstein and the voices of Isaac Zimet-Maddow and Misako Takashima. The musicians are: Jean Cooke (violin), Matt Hough (electric guitar), Sam Hillmer (tenor saxophone), Gina Valvano (bassoon), and Jacob Garchik (percussion and trombone).

Portions of this production were workshopped at Manhattan Theatre Source, Chashama and Dixon Place between April and December, 2001.

Polish Cultural Institute

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