first English-language production
by Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz
Thursday, April 25, 2002 - Sunday, May 5, 2002
La MaMa E.T.C.
74A East Fourth Street, New York, NY
Tickets: $15 or $12 members/tdf Tel: 212.475.7710
An undiscovered jewel of the early Polish avant-garde
- and pure Witkiewicz.
Translated by Daniel Gerould; directed by Brooke O'Hara; Music composed by Brendan Connelly
From APRIL 25 - MAY 5, The Club at La MaMa will present the first English language production of "Tumor Brainiowicz" (1920) by Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz, translated by Daniel Gerould (world premiere), directed by Brooke O'Harra, with music composed by Brendan Connelly. This jewel of the early Polish avant-garde will be done with elements scored as an opera, with ten players, a dozen puppets of various kinds and five live musicians. It is the New York debut of Two-Headed Calf, a theatre troupe founded by O'Harra and Connelly that was named after a well-known play by Witkiewicz.
The son of a Polish painter and a painter in his own right, Witkiewicz wrote over 30 plays between 1918 and his suicide in 1939. About a third of these are still unpublished, yet Witkiewicz, who was practically ignored in his time and left no direct disciples, now bestrides the avant-garde like a colossus, mysteriously arousing more excitement in young playwrights than practically any other 20th century writer, even O'Neill. His influence is perhaps magnified by the enthusiasm of European scholars, but his standing as progenitor of the avant-garde is unquestioned.
Witkiewicz is known for his outrageously extravagant scenes influenced by all kinds of cults and philosophical speculations. In "Tumor Brainiowicz," the overriding spirit is mathematics. The play was largely inspired by the life of German mathematician Georg Kantor, who proved infinity to be an actual value (as opposed to a more vague notion of the inestimable, or a philosophical notion of "nothing beyond") and died in a mental institution in 1918. With this play, Witkiewicz compares mathematical genius to the artistic kind. Brainiowicz' growing understanding of infinity is compared to a tumor which proliferates while the genius is subjected to a barrage of plots, subterfuges and attempts to steal "the power of math."
The daring, formative plays of Witkiewicz, including "The Metaphysics of a Two-Headed Calf" and "The Water Hen," have cast a long shadow over modernism and the avant-garde, but it's nearly impossible to find anything written on "Tumor Brainiowicz." Never before translated, it is virtually unknown in the English-speaking countries. But its style and viewpoint are Witkiewicz to a "W": it is filled with disturbing reflections on Man's existence, often delivered in dialogue whose madcap effervescence defies rational interpretation. In Witkiewicz' crazy, menacing world, scientists (like priests) are strange madmen, horrifying violence alternates with portentous scenes of inaction, and the universe is generally collapsing into ruins. All is imbued with the doctrine of "pure form," a concept that was passionately publicized by the Futurists, Cubists and rebellious artists of Krakow.
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