On Wednesday evening, 4 June, the Polish Embassy, London - thanks to Ambassador Witold Sobkow, and Consul Ireneusz Truszkowski - in a highly generous gesture co-hosted a rare theatre charity event in aid of the famous, but threatened Polish actors’ association ZASP home at Skolimow, Warsaw, of which Poland’s leading actor Olgierd Lukaszewicz is Chairman. Co- initiated, organized, and presented by Olgierd Lukaszewicz with Polonia’s remarkable and indefatigable, actress Irena Delmar-Czarnecka, (Chairman of the UK Polish Artists Association/ZASP), and helped by actor Grzegorz Stachurski the privileged 200-strong audience witnessed a remarkable one-man, one-off, ‘show’, by Lukasziewicz, with excerpts from two plays by Polish dramatist Stanislaw Wyspianski (1869-1907).
In a skillful monodrama/monologue, and impassioned acting tour de force lasting close to two hours, Poland’s “Laurence Olivier” as Irena Delmar describes him, Olgierd Lukaszewicz performed selected extracts of the ever-popular, realist-patriotism infused Wesele (The Wedding), and Wyzwolenie (Liberation). The plays are from the pen of Poland’s famed art nouveau artist, symbolist patriot-realist, portraitist, and eminent rhapsodic playwright Stanislaw Wyspianski. Rarely has London been privileged to witness such unique acting on what was a makeshift stage. The charity event was held in imminent aid of the Polish actors’ association - ZASP’s - rest and retirement home in Skolimow, Warsaw, which Olgierd Lukaszewicz as ZASP Chairman works for keenly and tirelessly, since being first elected in 2002.
With lights dimmed, the stage, and theatre is set - but like no other. The size and (longish-rectangular) shape of the Embassy’s impressive ornate Chinese room had earlier, quickly presented Olgierd Lukaszewicz with a logistical dilemma. He resolved it immediately beforehand by dividing the room into two, and performed with the ‘stage’ in the middle; the audience, the new theatre, seated either side of him ! (Even Polish Consul Ireneusz Truszkowski with others, rolled up their sleeves, and helped re-arrange the chairs at the last minute !).
And so the romantic Polish, Italian- style phonetic penultimate stress syllables, and tongue twisting Polish sibilants (thirteen in all), and consonants; words sculpted out of the multi-talented pen and genius of Wyspianski’s ever-popular plays, cascade onto the either-sided audience. All poetically enunciated, and delivered almost operatically - pathos, bathos ,melody and drama - from the gifted lips of Olgierd Lukaszewicz. Even for the foreign eye and ear the feast of acting on show is self-evident. But of course it is the important Polish historical and (realist) patriotic content, plus drama - all so close to Olgierd Lukaszewicz’s heart - of Wyspianki’s Wesele and Wyzwolenie, which with his acting and delivery that makes the evening so special.
The stage props are simple: table, chair, some loose (Polish) newspapers strewn on floor, intermittent music - Moniuszko’s chilling Kurant, a carillon with the bell chimes played on organ, and Janusz Grywacz’s chorals - simple lighting and … but most importantly of all, a comical Napoleonic shaped, three-pointed jesters/pretenders’s hat. Lukasziewicz himself is dressed casually in everyday wear - dark jacket, trousers, brown shoes. It is the trojkat that is the prop centerpiece. Olgierd Lukaszewicz later, when back home in Warsaw, in a telephone interview, explains it’s importance: “Trojkat – Symbolistyczne. Nosili komedianci na dworach” /The hat is symbolic and was worn at Court by jesters/pretenders”.
It is noticeable that his trojkat hat visibly carries the words ‘gazeta’, and ‘Polska’, in red and white, with an eagle alongside, and on the fold boldly emblazoned is the name of Polish newspaper Rzeczposplita patrons of a showing 2008 at the Narodowy Theatre of ‘A Kaz Tyz Ta Polska, A Kaz Ta?/Where is this Poland, what kind of Poland ?’ The phrase - taken from Wesele, where in response to the bride’s query what of Poland (?), the poet, answers her that Poland is in his heart, beating his chest. It is spoken in the curt dialect of the Gorale (Tatra mountain folk), south of the university city of Krakow, where Wyspianski was born and educated. As Helena Blum succinctly says in her illustrated (1969), biography: “Wyspianski wyrosl w atmosferze Krakowa i od wczesnej mlodosci przesiakniety byl kultem narodowosci/Wyspianski grew up in Krakow’s unique ambience, and from his early years was steeped in the culture of nationalism.”
Marching mesmerizingly through Wesele and Wyzwolenie, Lukaszewicz is at once, actor, protagonist, narrator, and stage director; getting onto a chair, then table, with trojkat on head, above his audience he declaims impassionately, lamenting Poland’s loss of direction, self-pitying, and misplaced sense of importance, then he is off to the light switches, he dims the lighting. Cue music. A haunting, heavy panting descends on the ‘auditorium’. Is Lukaszewicz tired, or is his heaving breathing, acting at it’s best, symbolic of Wyspianski’s verses and a search for a better, united Poland:
Teatr narodu? Sztuka? Polska sztuka?
Chcemy go stroic, chcemy go malowac
Chcemy w teatrze tym Polske budowac…
A national theatre? Art? Polish Art?
We want to design, we want to paint,
We want to build Poland in our theatre.
The exhausting monodrama ends. Rapturous applause. Still centre-stage Lukaszewicz is totally relaxed. Seemingly untired. When asked later, in the same extended telephone interview with him from Warsaw, he responds to this marathon actor’s feat with: “Szaleja na scenie emocje…sytucja…improwizacja…jak sport…dobre, oczyszczjace…tajemnica zawodu/One let’s one’s emotions go…the situation sees to the (relevant) improvisations…it’s like sport … cathartic … a cleansing. It is the crafstman’s/actors, tool in trade. A secret.”
With the applause gently dying down, the lighting up, Irena Delmar-Czarnecka thanks Olgierd Lukaszewicz for his brainchild, and such an extraordinarily original presentation of Wyspianski’s “Wedding” and “Liberation” Grzegorz Stachurski then hosts a telling, half hour answers and questions session. A lady fondly remembers Lukaszewicz from a film set in Lodz, over thirty years ago. In response to his role as chairman of ZASP, re-elected three times since 2002, and fight for finance, to save ZASP’s actors’ ailing home/building founded at Skolimow, near Warsaw in 1927, he is not optimistic. Much help is needed. The Polish Ministry of Culture is not listening. He himself is now more of a lawyer than actor. His gentle exterior demeanour, masks a resolute, intelligent ,quietly but very determined interior.
With Dr Kazimierz Nowak, posing a less lengthy than usual, but in effect as always a highly intelligent question, he warmly and very movingly congratulates Lukasziewicz on the evening’s performance, asking how much was ‘improvised’. Not much if anything is given away. Flowers are presented to both Ms Delmar and Olgierd Lukaszewicz. An excellent buffet awaits downstairs. But not for all. Those untrained in the art of buffet dining at the Embassy, will do well to learn the craft of getting in the eating queue …er… well…early…sharpish.
On a sadder, more serious note, in the same aforementioned Warsaw telephone interview, Olgierd Lukaszewicz relays the fact that the Polish Ministry of Culture is unhelpful on helping fund/save ZASP’s Skolimow actors home. A donation of 500 pounds is made available. Lukaszewicz, thinking first of his fellow actors, indicates that these funds will go towards helping the famous 1980s ‘Stan Wojenny and Teatr Domowy’/Martial Law, Home Theatre’ actor, Zygmunt Sierakowski. He has multiple sclerosis, and needs rest – at the ZASP, Skolimow actors home.
Let it be said here, not for the first or last time. The Polish Ministry of Culture must not be blind to the theatre, film, cultural , and social treasure it has in Olgierd Lukaszewicz. At the very least he deserves a Nobel Prize. Knowing Olgierd Lukaszewicz, the prize money of course would immediately go towards saving the ZASP actors’ home at Skolimow.
The evening raised £3700 for ZASP’s Skolimow actors home, plus £500 donated by FCOB Ltd.