Written by STANISLAW IGNACY WITKIEWICZ
Translated by DANIEL GEROULD

Directed by JEFFREY A. LEWONCZYK

 

Featuring

MIKE CABAN as Plasfodor Mimecker
HOPE CARTELLI as Mammalia Mimecker
MAGGIE CINO as Masculette
STACIA FRENCH as The Chinese Mummy
ANDREA MODICA as Graf Franz von Telek
with JEFF LEWONCZYK and DANNY BOWES as The Gendarmes

Costume Design by IRACEL RIVERO

 
Produced at Chashama's TIXE space
November 13 & 14, 2003
 

Long-winded Director's Note

As the director of this affair, I wanted to share with you, the audience, a few words that might help you put Witkiewicz, The Pragmatists, and this workshop in some sort of context.

Several friends have suspected Hope and I of inventing Witkiewicz ourselves, and I only wish I could say that we did.  Both as an artist and as a man, he's one of the most fascinating creations of the 20th century.  Born in 1885 to a father of the same name who happened to be a famous painter, Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz was raised among Poland's cultural elite.  He both embraced his father's mandate to be a great artist and rebelled against it, by creating impassioned works that had little meaning to the genteel society around him. In an attempt to discover himself, he traveled as a young man to the still-exotic Far East with his friend, the anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski; when WWI broke out he rushed back to fight with the Russians before finding himself embroiled in the Russian Revolution.  Upon his return to Poland, he bestowed upon himself the nom de plume Witkacy, and attempted to focus his ambitions.  At various times in his multi-faceted career he acted as a painter, a novelist, a dramatist, a photographer, an aesthetic theorist, and a philosopher, though in his lifetime he was rarely taken seriously in any of these capacities.

This lack of respect was due in part to his flamboyant public persona. There exist hundreds of anecdotes detailing Witkacy's calculated eccentricities.  He disarmed friends and acquaintances by appearing before them in fictional personas, or shouting nonsense at the top of his lungs during otherwise civil conversations.  For much of his life he supported himself by painting portraits of aristocrats, whom he charged on a sliding scale based on what drug he was under the influence of at the time of the sitting. 

Difficult as it is to extricate the various threads of Witkacy's genius, our concern here tonight is primarily with his plays.  Witkacy's dramatic output, consisting of some 30 plays, dates almost entirely to the period of 1918-1928.  Much of this work was created in fulfillment of his theory of Pure Form.  The kernel of this theory is that Witkacy wished to create work that was freed from the strictures of theatrical realism by concentrating on the piece's external elements as one would chords in a symphony, or colors in a painting – without any overt psychological or emotional content.  In this way, the meanings of the words, gestures and actions employed by the medium of theatre would be inherently skewed, causing the audience to confront the essential strangeness of existence.  Despite what might be expected from this heady aesthetic stance, there is much recognizable in Witkacy's dramaturgy.  The outlines of Ibsen, Strindberg, and Chekhov can be made out through the distorting haze of his plays, as well as strong foreshadows of the Theatre of the Absurd that would sweep the theatre world by storm several decades later.  And, like his contemporary Kafka, Witkacy proved a lamentably apt predictor of the totalitarian shadow that would soon be cast over his native land.  In fact, Witkacy's last act of artistic defiance was his decision to slit his wrists on September 18, 1939, immediately after Poland had been invaded on the East by the Nazis and infiltrated on the West by the Communists.

The Pragmatists (1919) is one of Witkacy's earliest attempts to bring Pure Form to the stage.  His later plays expanded to take on more familiar structures, often retaining the flow and scope of the more well-known works he references.  Not so with The Pragmatists, which serves as an unalloyed distillation of the interior of Witkacy's mind.  As you will see, the motivations and the actions of the characters pay only a slight resemblance to anything that had previously been seen on a stage.  It's my belief that these interactions more closely resemble the hermetic cause-effect relationships of a Richard Foreman, with all their dream logic and head-scratching symbolism, than anything from Witkacy's own era. 

The current production only begins to scratch the surface of the play's oddities.  The cast and I have come to the place we're at tonight through an intense, abbreviated rehearsal period that consisted of much conversation and experimentation.  The idea was to put up a rough sketch of the play – a road map, if you will – charting out the play's broadest contours in an attempt to make it comprehensible and engaging to a casual audience before we roll up our sleeves for a full production in Spring of 2004.  In doing so, we've sidestepped the deeper issues of Pure Form and concentrated on finding a route through the wilds of the text that the audience can follow with the aid of our common theatrical expectations.  We don't expect it to be perfect, and neither should you.  You should, however, sit back and submit to the world of the play, allowing it to take you on its strange journey in the fashion it sees fit.  As to where we end up, and what we sights we see along the way, there will be plenty of time for questions later.