Warlikowski's Adapation of The Dybbuk in 2004

Submitted by klh2140 on November 9, 2014 - 8:09pm

Image from The Dybbuk, Photo © Stefan Okolowicz

(SOURCE: Finkle, David. “The Dybbuk.” http://www.theatermania.com/new-york-city-theater/reviews/10-2004/the-dy.... COPYRIGHT BY: Stefan Okolowicz)    

From October 13th through October 16th, 2004, Krzysztof Warlikowski’s adaptation of S. An-sky’s The Dybbuk was performed at the BAM Harvey Theater in Brooklyn, New York.[1] Warlikowski was born in 1962 in Szczecin, a region that had once been a German land but which became Polish territory subsequent to the end of World War II.[2] In a 2004 interview with Fabienne Arvers that was translated into English from French, Warlikowski reveals that in a sense he “c[a]me from ‘nowhere,’ leading him to feel that “when [he] went at eighteen to study in Krakow…[he] was going to Poland for the first time”, even though “evidently, [he and his family] were Polish.” [3] Warlikowski’s work has greatly been shaped by “the trauma of the real.” [4] That is, “a past that continues to cast its shadow on the present,” with a special emphasis on Poland’s Jewish past and its decimation during the 20th century.[5] Photograph of Warlikowski (Sourcehttp://www.nowyteatr.org/en/people/warlikowski)

 In his interview with Arvers, Warlikowski explains:


“Even though I was born in the 1960s, I am of the immediate post-war generation – I was born in a town that was still in ruins. And then, television, ideology – all this arrived, and especially [we heard about] the war, the war, the war... from the Soviet perspective, obviously. An awareness of what really happened in Poland is only emerging now.” [6]


Before World War II, Poland had a vibrant Jewish presence and contained the largest number of Jews anywhere in Europe, but due to the events surrounding the Holocaust, Soviet communism, and strong anti-Semitic attitudes tied to mass migrations, these once bright communities have been “almost completely eradicate[ed].” [7]

Warlikowski found creative inspiration in the concept of remembering the parts of a collective past that many would rather choose to forget. “When we think today of this world that no longer exists, and of trying to approach Jewish culture,” Warlikowski urges, “we must come face to face with our own dybbuk. It is always there.” [8] In his approach to producing The Dybbuk, Warlikowski thus sought to construct a space to demonstrate the continuity of the past into the present. In order to do so, he merged An-sky’s Dybbuk with Polish writer Hanna Krall’s 1995 short story of the same name “about an American academic inhabited by the ghost of his younger half-brother, who was murdered in the Warszawa ghetto during the Second World War.”[9] Hanna Krall's book, in which her short story, The Dybbuk, is foundWhen discussing the unique choice to meld these two stories, the first of which is set in pre-war Poland and the second in contemporary America, Warlikowski said, “It’s about saying that this story is not only an old, Jewish legend, because the dybbuks are among us here, and also in New York... Each of us has our own dybbuk: our obsessions, anguish, traumas...”[10] In other words, while The Dybbuk in particular explores the missing Jewish piece in Polish historical narratives, it fits within a greater goal of “encourage[ing] the act of restoring and accepting memory, making it a compass for the future of a modern democracy, not a burden from the continually revisited past.”[11]

In his interview with Arvers, Warlikowski says that he was initially drawn to the the original text because he“ was attracted above all by the idea of staging this incredible love within An-sky’s play of the dybbuk for his fiancée Leah, which resembles that of Romeo and Juliet.” [12] He later, however, came to view these characters as “two halves of the same whole.”[13] In an issue of TheatreForum Journal, Justyna Drobnik-Rogers states that, “The Dybbuk became a metaphor for remembering the past that formed part of one’s identity and therefore complemented one’s sense of existence.”[14] The bad goes with the good, so to speak, and as such eliminating, ignoring, or misunderstanding a portion of one’s memory chips away at one’s full sense of self. Moreover, Warlikowski utilizes the dybbuk as an instrument to express the haunting, but critical importance of the past in producing history, memories, and identity. (SOURCEhttp://www.amazon.com/The-Woman-Hamburg-Other-Stories/dp/1590512235)

The Dybbuk was performed in 2004 at the BAM Harvey Theater as part of Brooklyn Academy of Music’s New Wave Festival, which emanated in 1983.[15]  The show was imported from Poland, where TR Warszawa and Wroclawski Teatr Wspolczesny produced it.[16]  In an article published in The Christian Science Monitor the same year as the festival’s founding, the New Wave Festival was described as a “vehicle” that promotes “[BAM’s] message that the new and untried can be popular and pleasing…[through]...presenting works that ‘seek to extend the boundaries of artistic expression.’ ”[17] These works are hand-picked by Joseph Melillo, the executive producer at BAM, who admitted in an interview with American Theatre Magazine that, “the festival represents my ideas, my tastes, my instinct, and my aesthetic judgments.”[18] Dybbuk Poster at 2004 Next Wave FestivalAlthough the festival does not have an explicit theme, Melillo said in 2004—the year that The Dybbuk played at BAM—“it is becoming a theatre festival, a genuine examination of how theatre has changed organically, or moved into another definition of expressing itself, in the 21st century through different approaches and genres.” [19] Below, Melillo discusses his decision to include Warlikowski’s Dybbuk as a part of the festival’s 22nd season:

(<---SOURCE: "Display Ad 55 -- no Title." New York Times, Sep 12, 2004. http://ezproxy.cul.columbia.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/doc....)

“Having gone to Warsaw to see The Dybbuk, I found it to be a triumph of originality and distinction. Warlikowski takes the traditional An-sky play and marries it with a fictional piece by Hanna Krall, a contemporary Polish-Jewish writer. He covers a lot of highly visual material, but he is still doing the play. And then he reaches this moment in the structure of his visual work where he opens a door and you find yourself in 21st-century Poland, a Dybbuk extension from the historical play."[20]


According to a review of the production on Theater Mania’s website by David Finkle, the intermission-less two and half hour show contained performances by 13 actors, 5 of whom were casually dressed and “wander[ed] in at the same time as the audience and t[ook] seats in a row of metal chairs downstage.”[21]  Finkle notes that one of the actors w[ore] a yarmulke, which he asserts is a “striking -- not to say arresting -- image in a piece by a Polish theater company,” given Poland’s nearly non-existent Jewish population today.[22] Before the play’s formal content begins, these performers told stories that are “ culled from collections by Shlomo Carlebach and Susan Yael Mesinai and by Zev Ben Shimon Halevi and deal with the fantastical, with the spiritual, with prayer shawls and imaginary fish.”[23] An-sky’s play is performed first and at its end seamlessly transitions into Krall’s story, whereby the actors who play Channon and Leah become Adam S. and his wife.[24] At the show’s resolution, Krall’s character Adam decides against exorcising the dybbuk of his half brother, which Finkle interprets as meaning that “there are some demons we need to hold on to or risk losing our humanity.”[25] Similarly, Neil Genzlinger’s writes in the New York Times that An image from The Dybbuk, Photo © Stefan OkolowiczWarlikowski’s Dybbuk can be “read as…[an]…allegory for the Polish Connection to Judaism in the last century—whether to embrace that past, as in the first story, or abandon it, as in the second.”[26] In spite of the show’s “hallucinatory imagery,” “mystical sounding phrases,” “crashing gothic chords,” and presentation in Polish (with English supertitles), its intent to come to terms with the past in order to move forward with the future was a clear success.[27]


Production Notes, as provided by the New York Times:

Based on the texts by S. An-sky and Hanna Krall

Translated by: Awiszaj Hadari

Directed by: Krzysztof Warlikowski

Set by: Malgorzata Szcznieak

Music by: Pawel Mykietyn

(SOURCE: Finkle, David. “The Dybbuk.” COPYRIGHT BY: Stefan Okolowicz)   

Produced by: TR Warszawa and Wroclawski Teatr Wspolczesny

Presented by: The Brooklyn Academy of Music

Located at: The BAM Harvey Theater, 651 Fulton Street, Fort Green[28]



Stanislawa Celinska (Frida, Narrator)

Magdalena Cielecka (Lea, Adam S.'s wife)

Renate Jett (Meszulach)

 Maria Maj (Woman)

Orna Porat (Reb Ezriel)

Andrzej Chyra (Channan, Adam S.)

Marek Kalita (Michael)

Zygmunt Malanowicz (Meir, Menasze's Father, Waiter)[29]



Drobnik-Rogers, Justyna. "KRZYSZTOF WARLIKOWSKI: Theatre as a Collective        (Auto) Therapy." TheatreForum no. 35 (2009): 10-16.              http://ezproxy.cul.columbia.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/22 2764299?accountid=10226.


Finkle, David. “The Dybbuk.” Review of The Dybbuk, directed and adapted by Krzsztof    Warlikowski. Theater Mania Website, October 15 2014.              http://www.theatermania.com/new-york-city-theater/reviews/10-2004/the-      dybbuk_5235.html.

Gener, Randy. "The Art Guy: BAM's Guru Joseph V. Melillo Presides Over Wave After             Wave After Wave of Genre-Defying Theatre." American Theatre 21, no. 8 (10,             2004): 40-42, 156-159.           http://ezproxy.cul.columbia.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/24 02919?accountid=10226.


Genzlinger, Neil. “Two Tales of Dybbuks as an Allegory for Poland and Judaism.”           Review of The Dybbuk, directed and adapted by Krzysztof Warlikowski. New       York Times, October 15, 2004.           http://www.nytimes.com/2004/10/15/theater/reviews/15dybb.html?pagewanted=p             rint&position=.


Lazan, Michael. "The Dybbuk." Back Stage 45, no. 44 (Oct, 2004): 43-44.             http://ezproxy.cul.columbia.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/22   1161631?accountid=10226.


Sterritt, David. "Brooklyn Academy Brings its Strengths to the Innovative 'New Wave'     Series." The Christian Science Monitor, Dec 21, 1983.              http://ezproxy.cul.columbia.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/51 2323469?accountid=10226.


‘The Path to The Dybbuk’, Krzysztof Warlikowski talks to Fabienne Arvers, Polish         Theatre Perspectives, 1 (2015), 88-92.              http://culturehub.co/works/The_Path_to_The_Dybbuk_1








[1] Michael Lazan, "The Dybbuk." Back Stage 45, no. 44 (Oct, 2004): 43-44, http://ezproxy.cul.columbia.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/doc....

[2] ‘The Path to The Dybbuk’, Krzysztof Warlikowski talks to Fabienne Arvers, Polish Theatre Perspectives, 1 (2015), 88-92. http://culturehub.co/works/The_Path_to_The_Dybbuk_1

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Justyna Drobnik-Rogers, "KRZYSZTOF WARLIKOWSKI: Theatre as a Collective (Auto) Therapy,” TheatreForum no. 35 (2009): 10-16, http://ezproxy.cul.columbia.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/doc....

[10] ‘The Path to The Dybbuk.’

[11] Drobnik-Rogers, “KRZYSZTOF WARLIKOWSKI.”

[12] ‘The Path to The Dybbuk.’

[13] Ibid.

[14] Drobnik-Rogers, “KRZYSZTOF WARLIKOWSKI.”

[15] Randy Gener, "The Art Guy: BAM's Guru Joseph V. Melillo Presides Over Wave After Wave After Wave of Genre-Defying Theatre," American Theatre 21, no. 8 (10, 2004): 40-42, 156-159, http://ezproxy.cul.columbia.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/doc....

[16] Neil Genzlinger, “Two Tales of Dybbuks as an Allegory for Poland and Judaism,” Review of The Dybbuk, directed and adapted by Krzysztof Warlikowski, New York Times, October 15, 2004, http://www.nytimes.com/2004/10/15/theater/reviews/15dybb.html?pagewanted....

[17] David Sterritt, "Brooklyn Academy Brings its Strengths to the Innovative 'New Wave' Series," The Christian Science Monitor, Dec 21, 1983, http://ezproxy.cul.columbia.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/doc....

[18] Gener, “The Art Guy.”

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.

[21] David Finkle, “The Dybbuk.” Review of The Dybbuk, directed and adapted by Krzsztof Warlikowski, Theater Mania Website, October 15 2014, http://www.theatermania.com/new-york-city-theater/reviews/10-2004/the-dy...

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Genzlinger, “Two Tales of Dybbuks.”

[27] Ibid.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ibid.