Critical Context

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Tadeusz Kantor first gained recognition as an innovative director and radical theorist of drama. Like his compatriot Jerzy Grotowski, Kantor sought to infuse the modern theater with the primitive power of drama’s origins. Kantor theorized that drama began when “someone stepped out of the circle of communal customs and religious ritual, communal ceremonies and ludic celebrations and made the hazardous decision to Break Away from the cult community.” Modern drama, Kantor asserted, “must recapture the Original Force of the Trauma caused by the moment when Man (the viewer) was faced for the first time by Man (the Actor).” It is of the essence of drama as Kantor conceived of it to be heretical, subversive, indecent.

In part at least, such attitudes reflect the influence of Stanisaw Ignacy Witkiewicz. In fact, until his first production of an original work, The Dead Class, Kantor was best known in Poland as a renowned producer of “Witkacy’s” own brand of absurdist theater. However, Kantor’s preoccupation with self-study was foreign to the earlier dramatist, and his unsettling approach to the supernatural (which, in the modern age, perhaps unfortunately, has come to be equated with the unconscious) placed him in the tradition of Polish “Monumental Theater,” which stretches from Adam Mickiewicz to Stanisaw Wyspiaski and Leon Schiller. Still, Kantor was such a unique personage—a theatrical legend in his own time—that it is easier to use him as the critical context for modern Polish theater than it is to find the context which can encompass such an extraordinary talent as his.