On the closing night of the 58th International Theater Festival MESS, the audience had a chance to see the performance Cezary Goes to War by a Polish independent arts company Komuna//Warszawa at the stage of the Sarajevo War Theater. The performance is part of the Pre-war/War/Post-War series by Komuna which thematizes the possibility of breakouts new war conflicts in Europe, wishing to approach war as a phenomenon from a realistic, non-heroic, and personal dimension. Although the narrative element isn’t in the primary focus of the performance Cezary Goes to War, a (quasi)autobiographical story about the director Cezary Tomaszewski himself can be construed from it. After finding himself in a locker room full of naked, muscular men (an event which was crucial in forming his sexuality) as a child, Cezary becomes fascinated by the army and dreams of becoming a soldier himself one day. After a medical exam by the medical committee for recruitment (according to strict rules on height, weight, thorax circumference, innate disorders, and psychological disorders of the recruits) grades him with an E (not suited for service), his chances for entering the army become almost nonexistent. By writing numerous letters to the committee, in which he complains about their decision, he requests requalification, unsuccessfully trying to convince them that he, in fact belongs to grade A.
Participating in the play are four performers (Michał Dembiński, Oskar Malinowski, Bartosz Ostrowski, and Łukasz Stawarczyk), and a pianist (Weronika Krówka) who occasionally joins them in etudes of acting and singing. At the beginning, all five of them introduce themselves as Cezary Tomaszewski, addressing the audience in intercepted monologues in which they list physical and psychological abilities making them soldier “material”. The dramaturgy of the play (Justyna Wąsik and Klaudia Hartung-Wójciak) is based on alternating monologues with series of etudes in which four performers on stage demonstrate their dancing, singing, and acrobatic skills. Demonstrating – in the most literal sense of the word, wanting to convince the audience (as if it’s the military medical committee) in their extraordinary abilities and their loyalty to their fatherland. The largest part of the major repertoire of songs performed during the play is composed from sections of patriotic operas by Stanisław Moniuszk, a composer from the 19th century and “father of Polish national opera”. His works’ performances are followed by choreographies, in which the meaning of the text is often times literally underlined, but through specific performing quality subverted and parodied. Love songs receive a queer feature, and those about friendship between stoic macho soldiers, a homoerotic subtext.
The scenography is composed from a piano, an olden portrait of Moniuszk left in the background of the stage by one of the performers at the beginning of the play, and a long bench which evokes a men’s locker room. On the bench, at the very beginning, the performers dress in colorful Adidas tracksuits and Nike sneakers (a great choice of costumes by duo Bracia – Agnieszka Klepacka and Maciej Chorąży). Combining old with the new – modern costumes and minimalist stage set-up with classical music and choreography – provides an outstandingly fresh and idiosyncratic audio-visual identity to the performance. Cezary Goes to War is full of quotes about classical pieces of opera and ballet, out from which the most impressive scene is the one in which Bartosz Ostrowski, along with a sweaty towel, reconstructs in-detail the legendary choreography Afternoon of a Faun by Wacław Niżyński.
Cezary’s military locker room becomes a polygon for unscrupulous acrobatic, dance and vocal questioning of dominant models for masculinity. By energetic and expressive manifesting of queer sexuality on stage, the performance “shamelessly” flirts with camp esthetics, whereby the performers never stop giving their best to achieve maximum (within their possibilities) precision of dance and vocal performance. Combining the aforementioned elements with patriotic male enthusiasm in the larger part of the scores, resulted in an irresistible witty parody of dominant patriarchal and nationalistic narratives, and probably the most original play at this year’s MESS.