Polish and Jewish Theatre Wars

Excerpt from the article:

The dusty building of the Jewish Theatre in Warsaw closed down in 2016 just two years after it had begun to undergo an artistic revival and it was unclear if it would ever reopen its doors. Prior to that, Polish society had been witness to a strange public row between two Jewish organizations confined to a tight space in one building. The conflict revealed many unpleasant truths about the relationship between these organizations, in particular the lack of will on either side to communicate or to even find common grounds for cooperation.

In September 2016, Cezary Morawski was chosen as the new director of the Polski Theatre in Wrocław. Morawski, an actor, had the blessing of the current right-wing government which assigned him to curb the theatre’s artistic force. Over the years, the Polski Theatre had become one of the most successful stages in the country. It had developed an uncompromising and artistically mature voice which, however, was not in line with the ruling party’s ideology. Morawski’s job was to dumb the theatre down to a politically acceptable level of mediocrity. The choice was met with a wave of protests across the country that is still gaining in momentum. The ill-considered decision let loose a theatre war in Poland: the war for and against Polish culture.


There is a huge Shabbat table in the middle of the room, covered with sand. In a few minutes, it will become the stage. This is the opening of “The Jewish Actors” (“Aktorzy żydowscy”), the second most important play to premiere after Gołda Tencer took over the Jewish Theatre. It’s a self-reflective observation on the state of the Jewish Theatre today. According to the play, the Jewish Theatre had become a place where an unexacting audience expected a thoughtless repetition of rituals or classics written by the fathers (not even mothers) of Yiddish literature. The Jewish Theatre was lost in the desert, surrounded by nothing but sand. But then the ritual is interrupted and the actors start talking about themselves. Some are Jewish Poles, some are Poles, or Jews by dint of habit. What is Jewish culture in the Jewish Theatre? The actors insist, ironically, that it’s neither the Torah, nor Talmud, but the stereotypical Jewish dance moves in iconic plays such as “Fiddler on the Roof,” that are both a means and an end for this theatrical group. The dance moves are performed mostly by non-Jews, “a group from within the majority trying to help the minority become a little bigger.”


Translation: Aga Zano

Proofreading: Barbara Pendzich


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