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THE KING OF HEARTS IS OFF AGAIN

A MARVELOUS POLISH PLAY AT THE ODYSSEY

When a play is so thought-provoking that it makes it impossible to sleep afterwards

without first googling the facts that it presents, it has, in some not so small measure,

served its purpose. When the presentation and individual performances make you want to

jump onto the stage and embrace everyone involved, you know, as one eloquent audience

member put it, that “a small shard of glass has just been embedded in your mind and

each time you turn your head, it will prick you to remind you of this extraordinary

production”.

 

Such is my reaction to the American premiere of “The King Of Hearts Is Off Again”,

currently in a far too short run at the Odyssey Theatre, in conjunction with the

Studium Teatralne from Warsaw, Poland.

 

The play is performed entirely in Polish, but fear not: Subtitles are provided on a

monitor set above the action and trust me, you will certainly need them. This is a

complicated and extremely fast-moving piece, but worth every moment of your attention,

should you be fortunate enough to attend.

 

The basic storyline is fairly standard, with a couple of twists: Young jewish couple

living in Warsaw are separated by the German invasion. He is sent first to Auschwitz

and later to a number of other camps. She manages to pass herself off as Polish and

never gives up her convoluted quest to keep her beloved husband alive. NOTE: The Poles

and the Jews apparently considered themselves to be separate nationalities, a strange

phenomenon that persists to this day, according to what we saw and heard last night.

 

The couple survived and were reunited. They went on to have two daughters, who in turn

bore grandchildren for the couple. none of whom spoke Polish, since they were raised in

Israel. The husband stayed in Vienna after the war; the couple eventually separated

and the wife moved to Israel to be with her children; then when the husband became ill,

late in life, she returned to Vienna and cared for him until his death. She died a few

years ago.

 

As you might surmise, this is based upon a true story, from a book by the late Hanna

Krall. When the heroine—and that she was!—realized that she would never be able to

explain this story to her grandchildren thanks to the language barrier, she approached

Krall, already a noted author, and convinced her to write the book. She hoped that

eventually, it would be translated into hebrew for the sake of her progeny.

 

The twists that I mentioned are the fact that both of these people survived the

holocaust and were reunited, both rarities, but for the director, even more of a twist

was the way in which this woman was driven totally by love of her husband. Another

thoughtful audience member commented on the comparison between that intense love and

how casually marriage is viewed today in much of the world.

 

The four actors, who between them portray some twenty characters, are fearless,

physical to an extreme degree, and uniformly excellent. The two women, Martina

Rampulla and Gianna Benvenuto, play the heroine at various ages, as well as other roles.

Waldemar Chacholski plays the husband (plus others), while the incredible Piotr

Aleksandrowicz narrates as he draws chalk lines on the black floor to delineate various

locations. His other roles are intense and fright-inducing. We were shocked to

discover at the after party that none of these actors is a trained dancer or gymnast.

 

The final twist for many of us was the revelation that in 1968, the Polish government

expelled thousands of jewish citizens, giving them travel documents that stated they

were not Poles and would never be allowed back in the country. That little tidbit is

what sent me googling at midnight, since I had never heard about this. If you are

interested in learning more, just enter “Poland, 1968, Jewish” in your search engine

and voila! It’s all there.

 

At the Q&A following the performance, the brilliant director, Piotr Borowski, who grew

up in Warsaw, told us that when he was young, he had no idea that jewish people had

ever lived in his neighborhood. He said that when he was taught anything about WWII,

no one ever mentioned that included among the six million people who died were some

three million Jews (his figures, not mine). The bizarre information about the

relationship between Poland and its jewish population is not common knowledge over

here, but then, as I told Mr. Borowski privately, we Americans have our own dirty

secrets that he probably knows nothing about.

 

This remarkable production runs through October 14th at The Odyssey. For reservations,

call (310) 477-2055, Ex.2, or go to www.odysseytheatre.com.

 

– Kris Malone

10/6/12

 

About Kris Malone

Kris Malone is the nom de plume of a longtime Hollywood talent agent. Kris created this website as a way for actors to improve their chances of making it in Hollywood, not as a way to reach the agency for possible representation. Kris wishes all of you actors out there the best of luck, laced with a big dose of reality and plain old common sense.

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