The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

At the beginning of Wielopole, Wielopole, the audience finds itself in what Tadeusz Kantor has described as the “poor room of my childhood” which forms the mise en scène of the majority of his original works. The playwright himself, although never appearing in his works as an actor, sits on the stage—as himself—and lends direction to the action.

Act 1 of the play is titled “The Wedding.” The ceremony with which the play opens, however, is rather funereal: The Priest—Kantor’s great-uncle—is lying on his deathbed. The family gathers itself around the dying man for a group portrait. The widow-photographer, however, turns her daguerreotype machine on a group of soldiers standing in the corner. As she begins to take their picture—with a demented laugh—her camera turns itself into a machine gun, and she proceeds to “shoot” at the platoon. The soldiers, who had before this moved around somewhat, freeze completely.

With the exit of the widow-photographer, the Priest rises from his deathbed to perform a marriage ceremony in which Kantor’s father—also in uniform—and mother are wed. In his notes, Kantor calls this a “posthumous” wedding, and indeed, the actors are wooden, lifeless in repeating their vows.

Act 2, “Degradation,” begins with a spooling action in which the family repeatedly move in and out of the “room.” It seems as if they have not been in this locale for some time, as the twins Uncle Karol and Uncle Olek (once the “moving in and out” has been completed) quibble over the arrangement of furniture and people in the room, desirous of setting everything up “as it was then.”

Mannequins as well as actors populate the stage in act 2. People are “doubled” just as the action of the play repeats itself: The playwright’s father, Marian, whose wedding has just been reenacted in act 1, returns from the war front, to the general amazement of the family. Another long-lost relative who “returns” at this juncture is Uncle Sta, an officer in the Austrian army taken captive by the Russians and released in 1921. An artist, he returns now with a violin-box on his shoulder, which, when cranked, plays a Christmas carol from a scherzo by Frédéric Chopin.

The family turns on Marian, whom they accuse of abandoning and insulting Helka, the playwright’s mother. Then, in a curious reversal, the family decides that since Marian has insulted Helka, they should follow suit. Thus takes shape the curious “degradation” scene which parodies the Palm Sunday litany. “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” jeer the family, as Helka is degraded beneath a cross on wheels. The dead soldiers get into the act as well, tossing the mannequin-double of Helka high in the air and finally leaving it sprawled on the floor. The widow-photographer makes an appearance here in the...

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Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The first obvious dramatic device in Wielopole, Wielopole is the role of the playwright himself. Kantor’s presence onstage—as himself, not as an actor—sympathizing with and to a certain extent directing his characters, suggests that the audience is somehow able to gaze into his mind as he sits engrossed in thought and “see what is going on in his head” in a very real sense.

The camera is a very important instrument, as far as Kantor is concerned. In taking a picture, one is freezing time. Freezing time is death. Thus, the primitive camera of the widow-photographer becomes a machine gun, an instrument of death which will people the world of memory with its negatives and prints. Indeed, Kantor elsewhere speaks of memory as a file of photographic negatives. Totally unrelated memories, distant from one another in space and time, mix themselves up in the mind (and on Kantor’s stage) like photographic negatives placed one on top of the other. In Wielopole, Wielopole this accounts for the drastic shifts of time, such as Ada’s death and that of the Little Rabbi, which have apparently little to do with the train of thought going on presently, yet are summoned forth by the mysterious workings of mental association.

The Christian imagery in the play is obvious. Most striking in this connection is the final scene of the drama, when Kantor “strips the altar” as does the priest on Holy Thursday. However, whereas the Passion Week ends in triumph for Christ, in this play there is no Resurrection—or, if there is, it is a very dubious one indeed.


(Great Characters in Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Gerould, Daniel. “Tadeusz Kantor (1915-): A Visual Artist Works Magic on the Polish Stage.” Performing Arts Journal 4, no. 3 (1979): 28-38.

Jenkins, R. “Ring Master in a Circus of Dreams.” American Theatre 2 (March, 1986): 4-11.

Kantor, Tadeusz. A Journey Through Other Spaces: Essays and Manifestos, 1944-1990. Edited and translated by Michael Kobiaka. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.

Kossowicz, Jon. “Tadeusz Kantor’s Journey.” Drama Review 30 (Fall, 1986): 98-114.

Kobiaka, Michal. “Kantor—Candor: An Interview with Tadeusz Kantor.” Stages 6, no. 6 (1986): 6-37.

Kott, Jan. “The Theatre of Essence: Kantor and Brook.” Theatre 3 (Summer/Fall, 1983): 55-58.

Mikaszewski, Krzysztof. Encounters with Tadeusz Kantor. Edited and translated by George Hyde. London: Routledge, 2002.