Sunday, February 23, 2014

Chapter 18

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times". That oft-quoted opening line from Charles Dickens' famous novel, "A Tale of Two Cities", seems custom-made for my high-school years. These four years will bring me happiness, despair, love, friendship, hopelessness, booze, freedom, death wish, theater, cigarettes, literature... Among other things.

Two talented seniors start a "theater club" and I sign up within a couple of weeks. Our "play" is a series of scenes cobbled together from various poems, mostly comedic, like "Żona Wacia" ("Wacio's Wife") by Gałczyński - a bitingly satirical look at the "torments" experienced by talentless  writers with oversized egos. The two founders of the club keep the best acting parts for themselves, of course, relegating the new recruits like myself to supporting roles, but I do not resent it too much. I discover that I like being on stage, but I also discover the paralyzing qualities of stage fright. I am not yet ready to carry significant burden in a play.

In my sophomore year I hear of auditions to an amateur theater troupe forming in a nearby Dom Kultury (House of Culture) - a neighborhood venue with the mission of bringing culture to the masses. That "culture" takes various forms, from reading clubs, to discussion groups, to yoga classes, to theater, to locally produced exhibits. The "audition" consists of meeting with the theater director - a young, charismatic guy with serious acting ambitions, by the name of Adam - and telling him that I am interested and able to attend rehearsals twice a week.

The play Adam picks up for his first foray into directing is "The Physicists" by the Swiss dramatist, Friedrich Duerenmatt - an over-ambitious project for a troupe consisting mostly of high school and college students, eager  but with little or no acting experience. Mercifully, Adam decided to cut out some big monologues, leaving only those delivered by himself, in the role of Albert Einstein. I am assigned the role of Johann Wilhelm Moebius (the much abridged version).

After three months of twice-a-week rehearsals, some of which are cancelled, and some with only half  the actors showing up, we have our premiere - the first of only two shows to be performed. I am both pleased and frightened that the auditorium is nearly full, albeit filled mostly with the friends and relations of the actors, the biggest group of those being Adam's friends and relations. Needless to say, some of us forget our lines and have to "improvise", or add unrehearsed "Easter eggs". (I flash the Polish version of the "fuck you" sign behind the back of the head nurse, eliciting a roar of laughter from the audience. Certainly not in the script.) It does not help that we are a bit tipsy, after my friend and I decide to use beer as prop for the "soup" the patients/physicists are eating on stage.

I do not remember much from the play, except feeling very exhilarated and at the same time very frightened by being on stage. By all objective measures it would have been a disaster, if not for Adam, who carries out his role exceedingly well; thanks to his extensive editing this role is now absolutely central and most developed, and that really saves us.  I am in awe of his performance, and the audience appears pleased as well, giving us quite an ovation. Most importantly, my girlfriend Gosia and her family are there, and that pleases me enormously, albeit with an undertone of resentment that it was Adam, not I, who stole the spotlight.

Post script: 
While writing this story I decided to check and see what happened to Adam's acting ambitions. I remember he had plans to enroll in the theater academy in Warsaw (PWST). I never knew whether he was admitted to this highly selective college, as we lost contact soon after the two stagings, but I do recall seeing him say a sentence or two in a very minor role in a Polish film a couple of years later. Since I still remember his rather unique last name,  I google him. It turns out he made quite a name for himself, as a... restaurateur, achieving status of a fairly controversial "celebrity" - possibly a better alternative to being a third-rate, supporting actor, but quite surprising nonetheless. He's gotten much older, so I would not have recognized him but for his characteristic hand gestures, which he still uses.

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