At the beginning of the year, the Płock theater used a proven recipe. Farce is a genre that is well known and liked in Poland. It also seems to be appropriate for today’s, what to hide here, difficult times. So the direction was right. So what made – as it happens sometimes in life – “Wife needed immediately” not quite the best thing that could happen to us? On the other hand, as the description of the play says, “not having a wife may turn out to be a greater disaster than having even the worst”. The decision about whether to go to a performance, just like with a married couple, should be made by everyone for themselves.
We all need laughter, relaxation, and relief. Contrary to appearances, however, comedy is an extremely difficult genre – both in cinema and in theater. It takes a lot of pain, sweat and tears to make someone laugh. Some say that when the whole team has a lot of fun during the preparations, the end result is far from what we expected.
The farce can be called the queen of comedy in the theater. The recipe for it is simple – let’s introduce the characters to some completely unlikely situation, let the mistake chase the mistake, let’s give some witty dialogues, let’s engage actors who are expressive and with fiscomic potential, and the matter is settled. It just doesn’t always work out. So where is the secret of a successful comedy or farce? Paradoxically and perversely, we, as viewers, have to… believe it. Of course, not in a rational, thoughtful and cool way, but on impulse, as if in affect. We just have to accept a certain convention, let ourselves be seduced and for a moment transferred to this artificial, created world. And when we come back from it with some reflection – more or less – it’s a comedy mastery at all.
Why did I not feel all of this during the performance directed by Stefan Friedmann? I certainly did not mean that in the performance there is a telephone in one room that I remember from the 1970s from my parents’ apartment, and in the other room the characters instantly buy and sell shares over the Internet.
First of all, a good farce must be based on a great text, and in my humble opinion, Edward Taylor’s work is not outstanding. Or maybe just in the world this text, despite the fact that it has gotten a bit old, has not passed the test of time? After all, it is not a classic of the genre, and times change quickly. Or differently, the more so because I have not read the original: its stage transfer and adaptation to Polish conditions did not work. English humor is specific, I like it very much personally, but in this case I think that it turned out to be too detached from Polish reality. One successful greps about news television is not enough.
The universalism of Taylor’s original text – if it ever was – is lost along the way. The cultural context turned out to be important. A satire on bourgeois hypocrisy? The English middle class has been shaped for centuries – it has its place in pop-culture, the Polish one is just emerging and so far, it probably has slightly different problems. We used to like to spy on someone, we aspired to Western culture, so we wanted to look at it. Today we probably don’t need it that much anymore, so maybe we would like to look more closely at ourselves and laugh at ourselves? No artificial decals or borrowings. The authors of Polish romantic comedies, where there are less and less Western imitations, and more of our Polish “coming-out”, have already understood this. Maybe it’s also time for theater?
There is no point in revealing the plot of the play here, after all, the farce must use the element of surprise and unexpected change of places. The problem is that everything in the Płock production (well, maybe almost) is very predictable. The viewer is rarely surprised (the first part has to be survived in this respect, the second will be a bit better, because the action will speed up). But it’s still half the trouble, we often like even the jokes that we already know, and watching some comedies again, we laugh no less loudly. However, during the performance in Płock we laugh, or even smile broadly, relatively rarely. We do not learn much about people from the performance, we cannot see the bottom line.
I appreciate the attempt to transfer the age-old conflict between a conservative and a liberal approach to life, but its great comedic potential has not been fully used. The slogan from the description of the performance that “the lack of a wife may turn out to be a greater catastrophe than having even the worst” sounds interesting and adequate to what we see on stage, but – metaphorically and with a grain of salt – the whole confirms that sometimes it is the best solution is to remain a bachelor or divorce, or at least separation. On the other hand, ending this somewhat dangerous and “slippery” plot, nobody who has never experienced it – a performance or a marriage – will really experience it. I am writing this sincerely wishing everyone only good relationships and performances.
Coming back to the point. Actors, or rather actresses, are trying to save the whole thing. It is worth seeing Sylwia Krawiec in several – sometimes smaller, sometimes larger – “scenes”. Maja Rybicka, with an intriguing understatement, plays the role of a whole-hearted – and not only – secretary. Even so, the greatest applause in the whole performance was received by Hanna Zientara, who was disguised as Lady Gaga.
Stefan Friedmann had already made good farces in Płock, such as “Crazy Scissors”. He is friends with Płock. In the good old days, that is, without the “limit of places in the middle”, you could meet him in the evening in Płock pubs, where he certainly did not carve “an important director from Warsaw”. I am convinced that he will come back to good shape with us. Everyone happens to – when I use a metaphor from the world of sport that is close to the director – weaker matches.
However, there is nothing better for training critical thinking than to disagree with the reviewer and form your own opinion. So you can go to the theater and see if “The wife needed right now” is something we are looking for right now, and the humor presented in this way suits us. And if not, after returning home, just turn on the TV to one of the news channels and we will have a lot of farces. Maybe even then we will miss the theater sooner.
the author is a member of the Płock Society of Friends of the Theater