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Review: ‘A Pink Chair’ Explores a Polish Playwright, but Finds Little

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From left, Danusia Trevino, Enver Chakartash, Gareth Hobbs, Erin Mullin and Jim Fletcher in “A Pink Chair (In Place of a Fake Antique),” at the Bard SummerScape festival.

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Maria Baranova

ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, N.Y. — The Polish avant-garde director and playwright Tadeusz Kantor was drawn to the forbidden, to trampling on taboos. In a manifesto he wrote in 1987, three years before his death, he savored a charge of shamefulness lobbed at his new work, a play called “I Shall Never Return.” That response, he wrote, “pleased me enormously — to do something that is regarded in art as shameful is absolutely great.” And a passionately negative reaction is still passionate, after all.

But “A Pink Chair (In Place of a Fake Antique),” the Wooster Group’s muddled new homage to Mr. Kantor, is unlikely to incite much fervor either way. In its world-premiere staging at the Bard SummerScape festival, it is an esoteric project but also one that feels skin-deep, and disconnected from its audience in a way that doesn’t seem intended.

Directed by Elizabeth LeCompte, “A Pink Chair” is a kind of conversation between the Wooster Group and “I Shall Never Return,” which Frank Rich, as a critic for The New York Times, described as “something of a last will and testament” by Mr. Kantor. When the Cricot 2 Theatre Company from Krakow, Poland, performed it at La MaMa in 1988, Mr. Rich wrote that “one needn’t know the minutiae of Polish history or the author’s biography to be swept into the free-floating anxiety radiated by his stage images.”

“A Pink Chair” replaces this visceral immediacy with obscurity, and the scholarly essays in the program, though nicely done, will be no help. The production, commissioned by the Instytut Adama Mickiewicza in Poland and the Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College to mark the centenary two years ago of Mr. Kantor’s birth, is meant to explore a play, its creator and his enduring resonance, including with the Wooster Group’s own work. But the company seems to have gone in search of Mr. Kantor and come back with not much to show.

The piece begins promisingly, with a friendly video of Zbigniew Bzymek, the actor playing Mr. Kantor. Rehearsals for the production we are seeing have begun, we’re told. We hear a chunk of Mr. Kantor’s manifesto, introducing his authorial voice: “Now I shall become a clown dressed in an ascetic black jacket, trousers with suspenders and scarf artistically draped around my neck.”

“There’s my costume!” Mr. Bzymek says, and smiles.

Then, also on video, we meet Dorota Krakowska, Mr. Kantor’s daughter, a recurring figure who adds frustratingly little to the production. When she and Mr. Bzymek, on screen, review some rehearsal footage of her father, we can barely see what they’re watching. (The video and projections are by Robert Wuss.)

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