Faust or illumination in Janusz Wiśniewski theatre

Szkic o "Fauście" Janusza Wiśniewskiego. Angielska wersja językowa. Polska  wersja dostępna w "Pamiętniku teatralnym. Luty 2007"  Tomasz Miłkowskiego.
“Faust” or illumination in Janusz Wiśniewski theatre

The burden of existence or Faustus

What can the world offer me yet?
You must resign, forego, forget.

Johann Wolfgang Goethe, „Faust”

Faust toss and turn: his life has lost its sense; Faust is just looking for chance of selfsaving. In such circumstances director Janusz Wisniewski catch him and show in the new fascinating performance, staged in Teatr Nowy in Poznan, Poland, “Faust” by Goethe. The performance has wandered round the Europe, but in Poland rather not. Wisniewski, who was dozen and so years ago mentioned on the list of the best polish theatre artits, now is treaten like an outsider. What is the reason of this strange situation? He is going his own way, deaf ears on fashion and shallow expectations.
Janusz Wiśniewski began his artistic way as the assistant of the director in Warsaw theatre Ateneum. He looked at the work of the masters from the close distance before he left Warsaw and went to Poznan, where he has continued his artistic cooperation with the Nowy Teatr (1979-1988) from his beginning premiere of  “Balladyna" by the Polish romantic poet Słowacki (1979). He directed from time to time in the capital (for example “The Mannequins" by Zbigniew Rudziński in Warsaw National Theatre, 1982, or  "Fight between The Carnival and The Lent" in Contemporary Theatre, 1984). But Poznan was the main place of his activity and there he produced his most important spectacles, which give him international acknowledgment, among them “Panopticum a la Madame Tussuad. Black Death Paris 1680” (1981), “The End of Europe” (1983), “Prayer of the Sick before the Night” (1987). In these performances, Wiśniewski created a new type of acting – it is an art of ensemble acting, very disciplined, perfectly harmonized, without any improvisation. The artist refers to the tradition of the total theatre, in which an ideal balance among movement, gesture and music is kept. This is intentionally reduced acting, which makes use of the emblems instead the psychology, or acting of the mask, as its special artistic sign. Every person in this theatre moves himself in a specific way; they show their own gesture or their own stillness. The Theatre of Wiśniewski is in a certain way connected with the mechanic theatre. Sometimes the rhythmical move in this theatre is associated with the mechanical toys and the connecting of the persons in the groups; entrances and exits from the stage are building the circularity of the time, where the changeability neighbors the unchangeability. It agrees to the essence of Wiśniewski' spectacles, which show the eternal rhythm of the life and the deaths, the passage of time, which has already passaged yet and now it will pass in a new cast; this is the eternal revue – the Theatre of the World.
The polish critics were divided in their opinion about the theatre of  Wiśniewski – some accuse him of the imitation of Tadeusz Kantor theatre, but it was impossible to be cold for the enthusiastic revues of his performance abroad. An old dislike still exists. His variable fate – after his success on the internationals festivals – makes, that he has come back to Warsaw for a moment. But he did not manage to create the Theatre Ensemble of Janusz Wiśniewski in the capital city of Warsaw, despite the splendid premiere entitled "Dazzle" (1989) – the spectacle was presented all over Europe and in Canada.
For some years Janusz Wiśniewski worked in Germany, where he realized, with the great success, “Dybbuk" and “Faust" among others. Then he tried to come back to National Theatre in Warsaw and realized a new performance based on very complicated romantic play “Samuel Zborowski" by Juliusz Słowacki, entitled “I have chosen All Soul's Day today". In this performance Wiśniewski showed his new artistic idea: instead the revue of life and death, he presented an idea of the revival, Resurrection. Then in one of the interviews the artist said: "Today the big classic subjects bring more life for the theatre then anything else… than, for example,  the sentimental cliche of humanistic modern plays, which supposed to look deep into the hell of comtemporary human being. In fact, these are the empty sounds. An unpleasant TV personality in the theatre". The critics and audience didn't understand him. One nervous reviewer wrote that it wolud be better if Wiśniewski would stay in Germany and never come back. So the history repeated – Wiśniewski  came back to his "motherland", to the Nowy Theatre in Poznan, where he is now the artistic director and where he directs plays from time to time.
The Nowy Theatre is not so called author theatre, just as Wiśniewski Ensamble, but… It is very difficult not to get an impression that this Ensamble still exists – always when Wiśniewski creates his world of the imagination we find in very well known space of the metaphysical cabaret.
I wnet to Poznan to watch“Faust". It is not easy – although the first night of this performance took place almost two years ago. “Faust" is presented on the Nowy' stage rather seldom and this performance is played all around Europe – at the beginning the actors of  the Nowy showed “Faust" in Edinburgh one month day by day, where the spectacle has been awarded The “Herald Angel" Award for excellence (2005). The Nowy presented the spectacle in Madrid and Malaga in Spain. They have no time to visit Warsaw. * Wiśniewski is not ready to visit Warsaw and he is skeptical, after his experience, whether he is really expected in Warsaw. I didn't see Krystyna Feldman, great nestor Polish actress in “Faust", who played Veronique (she passed away some weeks ago). After her death, Wiśniewski didn't prepare any replacement of her part. One actor is walking with her shawl and asking: “Where is Veronique? There is not Veronique!". That's all. This is a beautiful form of memorization that splendid actress and wonderful person.
"Faust" in Poznan by Wiśniewski is not a repetition of his German version – the first spectacle was on the big stage, and now it is now a small audience metaphysic cabaret.  In fact this space gave an impulsion to the beginnig of his work. Wiśniewski built a new stage in the Nowy, so called Third Stage, especially for using it in this mise en scene. In a small rectangular interior, like in a very fashionable black box, a theatrical room was created. The space of acting is close to two walls, two next are the horizon for the seats of the viewers – they sit on both sides. There are only 120 seats, but in fact there are about 150 members of audience, who want to look at the performance. It is a problem to buy a ticket and enyone who bought it don't resign the seat. There are many young, teenage people, from the province too. They sit very quiet, gazing at the performance, listening with great attention. And after the performance they give the actors a standing ovation.
The space of the acting is different from the box space, which Wiśniewski likes so much – there is not a stage ramp here. There is not clear border between the space of the acting and the space of the audience. There are some elements well known from prior spectacles of Wiśniewski such as the fair flickering lamps, which remind us of the holy time. There are a few old damaged chairs and then we will see a table with the white cloth, just like during the Last Supper. In the corner, nearby the stage horizon stands a big pole, which will be a cross for Jesus. From the previous spectacles we know the entrepreneur who conducts the performance as well but now he is called the Master of the Altars and represent both the poet and the author of the performance.
There are many strange persons in the cast that don't exist in the Goethe's "Faust" but which are well known or very similar to the prior cast of Wiśniewski theatre. We meet, as usual, the Giantess (here called Madame Switzerland, played by man), the Twins (like in Kantor's performances), Homunculous I and Homunculous II, Baucis and Filemon, Waiters, Veronique…
Certainly there is Faust, there is Mephistopheles, Margarette, Marthe. It will be impossible to play "Faust" without them. But there are not any angels, any rulers, there is not Director of the Theater (instead him is the Masters of the Altars, a little bit similar to Director, a little bit to Tadeusz Kantor – there are many allusions to the theatre of Kantor). It is very characteristic that the Master created this theatre of the memory, animating the nightmares, the dreams, having everybody on the string. From time to time without success, because old lovers became grey and hardened in their obsessions and faults.
This is Faust: a stout fatso, "corpulent abnegate" as Wiśniewski named him, almost repelling monster. Despite that, the Matser of the Altars has great hopes with him – this monster, born once more has a new chance of the survival. To be honest, he and Margarette will be packed in the rabbish bags at the end as the victims of the accident or unnecessary dust, but the hopeful is only showed in the raising of their short happiness. Only true love sets free – Wiśniewski don't tell anything new leading his hero and all of us during the station of  Jesus torment, remembering the way of Christ and the crucification.
This "Faust" brings back some cliche of the European culture: torment and Resurrection, immortality and salvation, hate and forgiveness, but first of all, the quest for the subjectivity, for the Self. Faust (deep, philosopher, lyric and full of the contradictions in fascinating creation of Mariusz Puchalski) is just searching his subjectivity; he doesn't need knowledge, but the answer whether the world depends on him or – may be – is he a straw in the hands external power. Like a dark power of Mephistopheles, the main constructor (or destructor) of the events and the representative of this power, that according to Goethe "which needs evil but makes good". One scene (distilled very kindly from text) between Marta (very impressing part of Antonina Choroszy) and Mephistopheles (great part of Mirosław Kropielnicki as a priest of black mess) shows how this power is dangerous and seductive. Marthe surrenders to the magic power of Mephistopheles, his lies, sensuality and cruelty – in their meeting is something from the atmosphere of the meeting of Richard Gloucester and Princesses Anna ("Richard III" by Shakespeare). In these both meetings, full of the sensual signals and passions, we can find strong erotism fanning the evil. So Wiśniewski contrasts the love playing of Marthe and Mephistopheles with the sentimental, poetical, lirical relation between Oberon and Tytania, very old lovers, who now seem as the grey doves.
This "Faust" is made very sharp. There are only short fragments of the long monologues, the particular scenes torn down, shortened and mixed or disappeared. Wiśniewski runs away from phillosophy of history to the symbols and Passion play. He prefers to show removing the Christ from his cross and putting him in the tomb, than to monologue for a long time about the secrets of power and the problems of the cognition. He chooses another form of  the cognition – trough the illumination. He combines a way of Faust with the Way of the Cross and that is a reason why he treats the cycle of pictures by Goya, The Black Pictures from the Deaf's House, as his aesthetic source. So the action is conducted here in a specific rhythm: from time to time, it stops to present a short fragment of the play, a beautiful poetic warning or an important reflection and then it becomes like a flee market, where a monster crowd is waiting on the witches' Sabbath or coming to the inn. Wiśniewski says, that "Faust" is for him "the founding act of the human being solidarity". So from the mixture of hate, blasphemy, struggle for survival, hideous life we can see a birth of love. And this is what the Master of the Alters, the magius of the theatre (and Janusz Wisniewski with him) would like to save.
He is now very serious artist in contrast with his playful beginnings. Although in this spectacle you can find the remains of his previous young strength, the lyric tone and open thinking about human being, who resigns so easy from the solitary life, dominates here. Therefore very impressive scene, showing the pages of Bible turned by the wind, is connective to the Big Absent.
This is the performance that is growing – you  come back to it, you think about, you have it imprinted in your memory. It lasts only 80 minutes, but you can talk for hours about. You are delighted by technique of making it in each detail: every actor plays without any fault, every actor moves on his own trajectory, every actor has a specific own gesture. Wiśniewski controls these heterogeneous elements of the performance, he controls the rhythm too and he makes one coherent mixture. The rhythm is stressed by psychodelic music of Jerzy Satanowski. Despite this high aesthetic level of the performance, its excellence is not so called the art for the art sake. In contrast, “Faust" by Wiśniewski is close to the ground, the falsity of everyday life, the chaos and in these elements he sees a chance of contemporary human being who dream about a better life. Surly it means something else for the religious and something else for non-religious. But who is the Master of the Altars if he is not a priest?
The artist aims high. And his brave actors who are not afraid of any task. Wiśniewski has a good hand to the actors – it is a question of the position and trust. He always says that he learns more and more from the actors who are not afrad to risk:
"The most impressive actor are those who know how to risk, always restless. I'm a happy man. I met actors that love the risk – in Poznań, in Germany, in Warsaw. It depends on discipline and the humility for the art".
And this is the motto of his theatre.

Tomasz Miłkowski
Johann Wolfgang Goethe, "Faust", director and mise en scene Janusz Wiśniewski, music Jerzy Satanowski, costume Irena Biegańska, choreography Emil Wesołowski, production of Teatr Nowy, Poznań, Poland, premiere 13 of the May 2005

* At last “Faust" was presented with a great success in Warsaw in Theatrical Center Montownia (April 2007).

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