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Warlikowski: Extra Ecclesiam

Translated by Soren Gauger


Grzegorz Niziolek

Krzysztof Warlikowski’s work stands among the most remarkable phenomena in post-1989 European theater. This book joins Warlikowski’s theater with the dynamic changes in Polish society following 1989, using strategies borrowed from psychoanalysis, theater anthropology, performance studies, and cultural poetics. This book is not only about an artist of the theater, but above all about the theater production as an object of the audience’s desire, an object evoking fascination, revulsion, aversion, and opposition. This is why the performances are analyzed as a series of flash-points, constellations with powerful affective impacts. It focuses on fragments of social rituals, material objects with major potential to spark audience emotions, and gestures of violence. The piecemeal narrative serves to cull out aspects of Warlikowski’s performances that could be read as symptoms of social drama.
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The play’s very first tableau unsettles the viewer with its melancholy and depressive aura. A girl in a chintz summer dress, a pink sweater, and worn runners sits by a table. She is concentrating on cutting out paper dolls, painting their faces black, and setting them on the table. This game of hers seems a neurotic symptom of being trapped in a sad childhood. From far off, in the depths of the stage, the slender figure of a boy emerges: he stands there motionless as if accustomed to being a silent witness in the shadows. The distance and lack of ties between them seems both accidental and significant. The table is large and rectangular, many people could gather around it; it is old and laden with memories of family rituals. The chairs upholstered with faux leather belong to another, ugly, anonymous world – perhaps a world after a catastrophe. Only the stool where the girl is sitting and an old book on the table appear to be memorabilia, traces of a lost and forgotten landscape. This glum world is reflected in the mirrored floor, closing the trap of melancholy, plunging the characters into a strange meditation upon themselves.

Darkness falls, the piercing, shuddering sound of a very low-flying airplane is heard. Is it a war? An air raid? The girl lights matches, following light signals in an unknown direction. Momentarily, another landscape, somewhat differently composed, but equally melancholy, emerges from the gloom. Three people sit by the...

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