The Wedding – by Stanisław Wyspiański (1869 -1907)
It is not Beckett (1906 -1987).
Nor is it Ibsen (1828 -1906).
It is not quite frugal.
In fact, it is unfathomably messy.
Rhymes, rhythms, flocks of people, buzz, phantoms, visions… The nick of time?
Flowery (stile floreale). Ornate. Constant interruptions.
Too bad Wyspiański hadn’t taken after Ibsen, whom he adored, just like Beckett did later – if he had, perhaps the Wedding would now tour the world.
Did the painter’s imagination infect the words?
Borowy wrote: ”Wyspiański only brought out the most essential traits, but in these traits there is a masterly precision of design and an impeccable sense of construction”.
I’m comparing Wyspiański’s sketches (who was captivated by Japanese art) with those by Hokusai (1760 -1849), from whom once again I cannot escape. Now in the British Museum.
And I cannot free myself from the heartbreaking thought that masterly precision means something fundamentally different for the Japanese and the Polish.
And once more, the Temptations, as if the Furies, torment me to edit the Wedding, to choose essential traits, to turn them into haiku poems, to stage it in the Japanese style, with an impeccable sense of construction.
In other words – to improve it and offer it to the world as an example of the mastery of discipline, thought and construction.
The text of the Wedding cannot be performed in its entirety anymore.
It must not be. It would not be right.
Because it would do harm to the Poet.
And, indeed, a Poet is what Wyspiański was – a Poet, just as the Greek tragedians who were known as Poets rather than as playwrights.
A Poet is entitled to use the language of metaphor, maxim, symbol, analogy, rhythm, and (alas!) rhymes.
“What we understand by prose is moulded into sound and rhyme – smoke is sizzling as the Poet pushes the language to the extreme.”
However, he doesn’t intend to confuse us – he wants to strike precisely.
“Do you think new clothes and finery can refresh corpses, so that you can walk with them hand in hand to a feast – or an execution?”
The blows are truly well-aimed if extracted from the “megaphony” of words.
But can these blows wound us in the same manner as Shakespeare wounding the British when he reveals the decadence of human nature and teaches humility before our history and the Universe?
The rest is just craft – massa tabulettae: words, words, words. The nick of that time.
But what would be the point of chatter, twaddle, and jabber on the stage nowadays?
For the sake of theatrical gameplay or a display of virtuosity?
Yes, in fact. Indeed.
But in this case, it is all reduced to the form: theatrical architecture and its urgency, lightness, musicality, dynamics… noise, rumble, twists, uproar, twirl, colourful ribbons, peacock’s feathers, fancy dresses… circus – vaudeville.
Wyspiański tore a dirty cloth off the heart of his generation’s soul and unveiled a rotting corpse. He confirmed we were a nation of parrots, peacocks, “journalists”, perverts, madmen, daredevils, fools and comedians (…). Later on, I had moments of powerful hate for Wyspiański for this dark, purported, wild mockery of this poor age in which we all are rotting – Adolf Neuwert-Nowaczyński, 1901.
As I read this and other notes from 1901, I can barely believe my eyes. Can this just be the phraseology of the period? Or is the Wedding really just a cheap, smalltown pamphlet in Gogol’s fashion (1809 -1852), poured all over the parade of characters and phantoms, portrayed in a manner that cannot attract or concern anyone today?
And yet, history gave the Wedding a prominent place.
Therefore, in the name of history and the Poet’s greatness, we must bang our heads against the wall to extract the seriousness from the play. Even though we continuously encounter pamphlet, satire, créche, and folklore vaudeville. Words are pouring. Madness…
Yes, it is madness. It is a play about madness or – better said – about mania (how many meanings does this word contain!).
The Wedding rooted in madness! No in drunk dementia or delirium!
The Wedding as a study of madness, mania, delusional disorder! What a theme! An arch-Polish theme indeed, yet reaching beyond Poland and the Polish people… A global theme!
I pondered this option. But it would be more than we can carry. Both I and the actors. Too much pain, too many thorns and suffering.
And the truth,too much truth.
We wouldn’t manage, we’d crack like chestnuts on burning charcoals.
The world is bathing in madness. In our times, it crosses all possible boundaries of risk.
Is that not enough?
Theatre must generate Hope.
But the meanings of this Hope are hidden; it’s difficult to recover them from the water. The depth in which the Poet has sunk them is profound.
For the meanings to be meaningful, one needs to separate them from the characters and protect the dignity of pure poetry. In order for Poetry to remain a Goddess, we must extract Her from all the Johnnies, Headmen, Girlies, Hostesses, Peasants… (or no, save the Headman!).
And we must sing this Poetry as if we’re the Aoedes singing Homer’s lines (yes – we need Homer’s lyre). We need to choose only what in Euripides’ is called gnoma – the maxim.
Was the Poet anything like Euripides?
Yes, he was!
And, just as Euripides had his Aristophanes, Wyspiański had his count St. Tarnowski.
I want to create what exists not and what cannot be reasonably expected from anyone. I want to create a Polish opera, which was barely drafted by Moniuszko. I want to run it according to my own musical wholesomeness and detail. And what pertains to modern opera, mediocre both in instrumentation and singing, this I do not want and I solemnly do not wish for – thus spoke the Poet.
From his early years, the Poet was passionate about music theories and systems (let’s also add that Wyspiański was an institution extraordinarily sensitive to music – Boy-Żeleński). Alas, the 1916 Rostworowski’s operatic adaptation of the Wedding was a failure.
Résumé and adieu; to run over the Wedding in the manner of Tarnowski – this is easy; to tailor the play according to current political requirements – as Wyka and Puzyna once wanted – would be cheap; to turn it into a cabaret-like actions – would be undignified; to make it patriotic and museological – would be boring…
A foreigner won’t get it.
Does this matter? Yes, a lot!
To receive a certificate of universality for what is uniquely ours (“our-ness”) is a prerequisite to be granted a place in global culture. At the same time, as the “our-ness” becomes more and more familiar and everyday, it may result in cultural erosion.
I cannot resist the thought that the Wedding would indeed be universal (an example of the “global spirit” as Horzyca wanted), if its events were set in June and not in November (nota bene: the ancient rule of time – place – action cohesion is a great bonus begging to be explored). The play would then attain a higher tone than that of a “crow”.
Oh, the magic realism and mating rituals of the Midsummer Night’s Dream! Wild realism!
Is Wyspiański’s genius captivating or annoying?
We took this realistic-magical imagination, this spectacular use of theatrical instruments, this spider’s web of captivating words – and we transformed them into monologues. Then, we cleared the monologues of words that were just an empty buzz and not ringing belles. We built images and actions around them – not necessarily following the vision of the Poet. Our delirious and galloping fantasy led us to harness the imaginary worlds of Malczewski and Konieczny.
Master Zygmunt is a tradition. I flew with it, while also following the maxim: identify yourself with the tradition and then transform it. We included the youth’s Prologue (this group came in uninvited – God himself will envy me such guests!) and the Poprawiny – traditional Polish wedding afterparty. The actors took a few roles each, and the actresses decided to perform parts of male characters (O, temporal). We changed the order of scenes – in accordance with the rules of magic realism.
From among the essential themes of the Wedding, the “national themes”, so to say, three remain:
– the Polish theme (every year of every generation / time and again, a soul’s revealed / greatness, once again, unsealed / then re-buried deep, in desperation… It’s like a curse upon us all / that holds us in a nightmare thrall)
– the Ukrainian theme (Yes, I seem to hear those bells… A solemn, tortured groan that swells)
– the Jewish theme (It’s just that we’re the kind of friends who don’t care much for one another)
It is worth a treasure, or even a sacrifice, to bring these three worlds back together. But they will not come together, unfortunately.
Wyspiański employs symbols and allusions pertaining to his own times. Hence, it’s hard to resist alluding to our contemporary reality in any modern staging of the Wedding.
Various contemporary intrusions leaked into rehearsals with a desperation worth a better cause.
Some of them stayed.
Just like Wyspiański’s phantoms.
To conclude: may “Gardzienice” be the apostle and the advocate for the Wedding in the world – for the next couple years at least.
It is sad to see how scarce this play’s presence is on the international scene. Especially since mating and wedding rites belong among the few surviving rituals in living traditions and use incomparable means of theatrical expression. The same traditions know the rites of invoking ghosts and phantoms from the past. The magic realism is palpably alive.
. . . . .
To Rena Targońska, a magnificent scenographer, Lady of no flaws, who passed away last year. We pay our tribute and, in honour of her memory, we use the crown from the Midsummer Night’s Dream, which she made for the Osterwa Theatre in Lublin. Her workspace in the attic of her house at 10a Niecała St. (former Sławiński St.) was our hideout, office, and sanctuary for many years…
Włodzimerz Staniewski’s Director’s Note