The cast of A Pink Chair (In Place of a Fake Antique).

By Fay Simpson

Goose-stepping violin players and a red-nosed Odysseus holding onto a mighty ship of swaying chairs are just a few of the images that beset A Pink Chair (In Place of a Fake Antique) into a world of nightmarish Holocaustal dreams. Based on the work of Tadeusz Kantor, the Polish Director of Cracow’s Cricot 2 Theater Company, and commissioned by the Adam Mickiewicz Institute, this piece reinvigorates live theatre as a sensorial experience of the unconscious, where (in true Wooster Group form) the story is told not in a linear way, but fractured into a myriad of images. A crisp Argentinian Tango dancing until they’re tossed off; a spontaneous chorus singing a Jewish hymn, then a Catholic hymn, then a Polish bar song; physical re-winds and illusions; and a tender wedding turned military charade. All these moments are mish-mashed into the confines of a four cornered stage.

Directed by the ingenious Elizabeth LeCompte, the myriad of images include film footage of an interview with Kantor’s daughter, Dorota Krakowska; performance  footage of Kantor’s last piece I Shall Never Return, performed at La Mama in June of 1988; as well as a rehearsal of that same play in Poland. Kantor was known for being onstage with his actors, almost conducting them like an orchestra. In this piece, the actor who plays The Man in the Place of Kantor, the alarmingly charming “Z” Bzymek, sits off to the side, like a menacing shadow, and reads from his manifesto before being bound in a chair with wrapping tape and wheeled behind a closed door. Is this a way of saying “Don’t go, please don’t go?”

The Wooster Group— a 40-year-old troupe of veteran actors dedicated to LeCompte— has similarities with Cricot 2, which was a small band of actors dedicated to Kantor for the span of his work, from 1950 in Cracow til his death in 1990. The relationship between director/writer and actor/creator is unpacked and then re-packed into this homage to Kantor— and, I would also add, homage to Lecompte. The communal and intimate creation of a company who works together year after year is almost a historical event these days, where three week rehearsal periods are common and stars are cast because of their Instagram followers. Actors hustle between TV, film, and stage trying to make ends meet, and rarely do they stop and say, “Here is my artistic home.”

The Wooster group belies that trend. The communion between these long-standing Wooster Group actors as they portray the communion of the Cricot 2 actors in the film was like a double exposure photograph. The moments of synchronicity with stage and film, were thrilling, when an actor on stage would shout and gesture in the exact same way as an actor in the film, or when a polish actor was waist-up in the film, and the actor on stage was behind and became the legs. It is an illusion that bends the mind into surrender. One can only watch these images and be reminded of the fears and dreams inside our own history, because there is no logic— only pin-pointed moments of life infested with war on a stage of chaos. (But at least this stage was enhanced by the lighting design of Jennifer Tipton and Ryan Seelig.)

Watching the legendary Kate Valk as The Wratchet Schump, the ferocious  Danusia Trevino as Woman with Violin/ Servant with Shoes in Hand, the indomitable Ari Fliakos as Innkeeper /Odysseus, and the beguiling Enver Chakartash as Man with Breasts/Phemius, one experiences the fearlessness and rigor of these actors in their commitment to the characters with whom they share their bodies. Both the actors and the “doubles” they play represent a rare breed indeed: Stage actors who have been stomping the boards for decades in their determined belief in the transformative power of theatre. 

As Kantor writes in I Shall Never Return;

“They have traveled with me a long time
and gradually left me at various roads and stops.
Now we are to meet here.
Maybe for the last time.”


A Pink Chair

At play NYU Skirball – 566 LaGuardia Place at Washington Square, NYC.

January 23, 24, 25, 30, 31 and February 1 at 7:30 pm, with matinees on January 25 & 26, February 1 & 2 at 3 pm.