The Big Gay Polish Show?

The title of the show is really:
Radosław Rychcik
Stefan Zeromski Theatre
In the Solitude of Cotton Fields
… but I call it The Gay Polish Show as a way to frame my experience. I attended the Thursday, January 13th performance in Seattle co-presented by On the Boards and Polish Cultural Institute of New York. The show features two handsome men in black suits with microphones on stands + a backup house/punk/techno band called the Natural Born Chillers. So why The Big Gay Polish Show rather than RR/SZT/In the Solitude of Cotton Fields?

In the Solitude of Cotton Fields is presentational. Most of the performance features two actors (Tomasz Nosinski and Wojciech Niemczyk) who face the audience and speak into microphones or move through expressionist poses. Occasionally, there are dance interludes sometimes with a strobing light. The band, in striped sailor t-shirts and white pants, rock out on drums, laptop, keyboards, electric guitar and bass. The action shows the inner thoughts of the two men through still and contorted faces and bodies + text spoken in Polish and projected as supertitles in English. Ergo, a show.

When I was in Warsaw, I stayed with the mother of a musician. This elderly lady seemed to be the picture-perfect image of an old Polish woman. She kept her grey hair in a tight bun and wore a large hand-knit sweater. Her flat was a concrete block of socialist architecture with a dark stairwell that led to two rooms. The living room had a drape that covered one wall and corner. There was a wooden table in the center of the room where we ate. We had canned pineapple for every meal perhaps because I was a guest from outside Poland? The room felt correct and austere until she pulled me closer to the corner.

(Polish continued…)
Behind the heavy drapes was an elaborate altar. Photographs of the Dalai Lama, beads, flowers, incense and pamphlets decorated her secret space. She told me that she was a Tibetan buddhist at heart ready to reincarnate so she could be closer to her teacher. In the Solitude of Cotton Fields similarly allows the audience a peek into a secretive life. Beginning with suited men dancing to techno music, eventually the smoke from the fog machine dissipates to reveal the time when men align with beasts. The brilliance of Rychcik’s direction of the play by Bernard-Maria Koltes is that the danger zone is for the most part imagined. Striking moments are when “difference” becomes a placeholder for “injustice” and the idea that a successful exchange between men should not actually fulfill desire but rather have desire continue to grip.

The lipstick, nudity and kiss place the work within the rhetoric of the closet. Gayness here becomes a symbol of transgression from a suffocating normality, in this case an implied heterosexuality signaled by the wedding band. The work grounds itself in the uncomfortable reality of keeping secrets for the sake of appearances showing how gay continues to be relevant even with queer and transgender performance making the rounds.

The show is loud. I wore earplugs all the way through. The show has to be bigger than life. What better way to share secrets than to yell accompanied by a rock band? Whenever I am in solitude I scream the loudest. It must be really awesome in the cotton fields. Moreover, there’s an intense slideshow with images like a bleeding star knifed into the flesh around a belly button. During this slideshow, text appears saying “words are useless.”

... so The Big Gay Polish Show or In the Solitude of Cotton Fields?

When I was in Europe, I was told that Americans were sentimental, yet I feel that there is a crying out to behold with this work. Or perhaps it is because I am American that I feel moved by the intensity of emotion felt between the men on stage last night. Or perhaps, in America, it would become The Big Gay Polish Show because as an American I have become immune to laughing at people who shame themselves so I need a tongue-in-cheek title to entice me to attend. Or perhaps it is a way to discredit the potential of a performance to probe uncomfortable territory.

Whatever the reasons, I am thankful for big gay Polish cotton fields where I can hang out and watch the angst of other men and their desires in what becomes more than a sound-byte exchange. In the Solitude of Cotton Fields continues for two more performances at On the Boards tonight and tomorrow night at 8PM.