Judith as she was devised and performed by Jolanta Juszkiewicz. Kropka Theatre, Sydney, directed by Anatoly Frusin
The Street Theatre Studio, Sunday to Tuesday February 12-14, 2006, 7pm
Kropka Theatre, founded by Jolanta Juszkiewicz in Sydney in 1997, has a special place in the Australian theatre scene. Though Judith as she was is to be performed as part of the National Multicultural Festival, Kropka is not a theatre of migrant experience, though that is an important role to have in a country full of immigrants - we will see an example in My Of Course Life this coming week.
It is not a theatre of our modern Australian identity, which we have seen this week in Drifting. It is not European theatre transposed to the colonies, though some readers may remember an early Kropka production in the 1999 Multicultural Festival called Grushenka, directed by Rodney Fisher, and based on the character in Dostoyevski's The Brothers Karamazov.
Juszkiewicz instead is a migrant, from Poland, who explores the emotions and ideas which are essential to her life as a person living in Australia - indeed, as an Australian - seeking to create what she describes as "poetic-metaphorical theatre, where the main attention is devoted to the psychologically exact, emotional and plastic acting, the special and unique usage of the scene properties which gets a multi-layer meaning in the play." Judith as she was has an interesting background indeed.
First, why was the story of Judith chosen? Readers will surely know the famous, rather grisly, early 17th Century series of paintings of Judith Beheading Holofernes by one of the few Renaissance woman artists, Artemisia Gentileschi. Was Judith a cold-hearted spy who seduced the general, Holofernes, who threatened to destroy the outnumbered Jewish forces? Was she, mythical or not, a great hero who saved her nation?
While Juszkiewicz was having a coffee break in rehearsals for her previous work Convict Women - Lifetime Exile, in a hall belonging to the Catholic Church, the resident priest raised the issue which became her central concern. Is it right or wrong to kill in the name of the Lord, in the cause of justice?
Gradually the importance of Judith's story seeped into the deeper recesses of her thinking, and Juszkiewicz found herself wanting to explore Judith as a normal woman. She, according to the text in the Apocrypha - the hidden books of the Old Testament - was a widow, who had not borne a child. Her brother-in-law had the right to take her as his wife, but, perhaps because she was childless and so of less interest to him, gave her time to make her own decision. Why did she decide to approach the enemy? How did she feel when surrounded by enemy soldiers? Was she attracted to the great General Holofernes, and he to her? Did she do what she knew she had to do, despite her feelings? In her later life was she sure that she had done the right thing?
In the meantime, Juszkiewicz was thinking, how important is the message in this myth for the modern world of terrorists who do indeed kill in the name of the Lord, in the cause of justice as they see it? If Judith was a terrorist, how do normal people do these things?
Then add to our story theatre director Anatoly Frusin, born in Ukraine, converted to Judaism when young and living in Israel, leaving his non-Jewish mother in New Zealand to become a NIDA graduate, working often with Neil Armfield at Company B and Opera Australia. For him, his mother's decision to become Jewish in the belief that it would make his life easier in the Jewish community has emotional resonances, in odd ways, with the story of Judith. And so, as Juszkiewicz worked out how to express the feelings of a normal woman, Judith, with a terrible responsibility, Frusin became not so much her director but her enabler, the person who helped her find the forms and images on stage to create Judith's story and its metaphorical meaning - the outside but committed observer who could provide the critical view she needed.
And so was born and grew Judith as she was. Juszkiewicz is influenced by the Polish-Jewish Bruno Schulz, writer of "poetic and fantastic short stories [in which] small details of ordinary reality become powerful and protean forces of beauty", who was shot by a Gestapo officer in 1942 on the street of his beloved home town, Drohobycz. Though she believes her Judith justifies her action in killing Holofernes, accepting that it was the will of the Lord, her play raises for us all the ultimate questions of justice and death.
Judith as she was devised and performed by Jolanta Juszkiewicz
Kropka Theatre, Sydney, directed by Anatoly Frusin
The Street Theatre Studio
Sunday to Tuesday February 12-14, 7pm
Tickets: $23 full, $18 concession, $20 group
Bookings: The Street Theatre 9247 1223
© Frank McKone M.A., F.A.C.E.
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