Source Material on
is a review of a performance of Grotowski's "The Constant
Prince" published in a suburban New York Newspaper,
The Daily Times, on October 17, 1969.
Polish Show Revolutionary
In recent years I have been reading and hearing about the Polish Laboratory Theater, founded and run by Jerzy Grotowski. It was to come here last season but, because of the invasion of Czechoslovakia, the tour was canceled.
Now the ban has been lifted and the first of his trio of plays opened last night in a church at 133 W. 4th St. to which it made a last minute move from its originally scheduled location at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
Its first offering is "The Constant Prince" by the great 17th century Spanish playwright, Calderon De La Barca, with scenario and direction by Grotowski and an adaptation credited to J. Slowacki.
The play (already a misnomer) is done in Polish and presented for only 100 spectators seated on benches in what can best be described as an operating theater.
You look down over a wall on the six actors, five men and one woman, and find yourself, as Margaret Croyden said so helpfully and effectively in an article on Grotowski and his company in The New York Times, in "a black, brooding world of classical myth and contemporary degradation, depicted in an atmosphere of horror, executed with the delicacy of a poem."
Grotowski has no use for the trappings of theater. Here he uses no scenery, practically no props, no makeup on his actors, only slipshod costumes. What he has worked for is what he terms a "poor" theater. With all three plays, the seating and form of the theater is changed, but the audience will always be extremely close to the actors. That is why he has limited it to 100 people.
I cannot describe to you clearly the action (again the wrong word) of "The Constant Prince," although there is a synopsis in the program that talks of a society gone mad and seeking to destroy the prince, only to be overcome by remorse.
There is a platform in the arena below us and on this are placed the victims (the first prisoner is castrated, then killed) while the tormentors a woman, a king, a deformed man with an umbrella and two others mill about and on him.
My sensations at seeing this remarkable event, for it is all of that, are almost as difficult to describe. At times I had the feeling of being witness to an Eleusinian mystery. I had a strange mixture of wonder and discomfort, bewitchment and alienation. There were other moments when I felt I was at a passion play such as had never been performed before.
The prince, beautifully played by a young actor, Ryszard Cieslak, seemed to me to be Christ enduring and forgiving his torturers. I have seldom seen an actor so completely in control of his voice and body. He issues groans with a volume that is almost symphonic, while the others dance to the rhythm of his pain. He twitches with every portion of his seminude body and has the grace of a fine dancer combined with the talent of a great tragic actor.
As for the others, they are creatures out of one of Goya's grotesqueries. They, too, can mime and sing and dance with a discipline and an infinite skill. Their language is foreign but they translate it into a shared terror and pain.
I will write more and, I hope, more intelligently after I have seen the rest of Grotowski's plays. In the meantime, here is a revolutionary experimental group that provides a new experience that puts to shame inferior exhibits as the Living Theater and Richard Schechner's tawdry efforts.
I doubt greatly if you would enjoy (there is no such word in the vocabulary of Grotowski) "The Constant Prince," but you would be startled and unnerved, absorbed and involved in a kind of shock treatment. To quote Miss Croyden again, here is "a new language of body and sound."
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