Grzegorz Jarzyna’s Nosferatu, after Bram Stoker’s Dracula from TR Warszawa and Teatr Narodowy to BAM

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 Katarzyna Warnke & Wolfgang Michael in Nosferatu. Photo 2013 Richard Termine.

Katarzyna Warnke & Wolfgang Michael in Nosferatu. Photo 2013 Richard Termine.

Inspired by Bram Stoker’s Dracula
TR Warszawa and Teatr Narodowy
Written and directed by Grzegorz Jarzyna
Set design and costumes by Magdalena Maciejewska
Lighting design by Jacqueline Sobiszewski
Video design by Bartek Macias
Music by John Zorn

BAM celebrated Hallowe’en with a production of Nosferatu, Grzegorz Jarzyna’s own adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel, Dracula, performed by his own TR Warszawa in a co-production with the Teatr Narodowy. I’m a particular admirer of Polish theater, but not of what I’ve seen of Pan Jarzyna’s worka. When TR Warzawa’s production of Jarzyna’s Macbeth 2008 came to Brooklyn under the auspices of St. Ann’s Warehouse, I came away with quite a negative impression, largely because I thought it arbitrary and self-indulgent. Shakespeare’s words, which have been translated into Polish very ably more than once, can bring across his plays so powerfully, if we only hear them from that actors mouths, not through complex electronics and sound effects. Unlike Macbeth, Nosferatu, sporting the name Stoker’s estate forced Prana-Film to adopt for F. R Murnau’s classic film, seems less dubious as an adaptation. The Irish playwright, critic, impresario, and theatrical manager created in Dracula a classic novel with complex resonances which have inspired theater and cinema audiences for generations, and seems to go on spawning adaptations generation after generation, much as Shakespeare’s plays did from the Restoration through the Age of Enlightenment, not that the process doesn’t continue today. However, we adhere more to observe the text today, however we might play with the rest of his creation. I came to BAM mainly curious about what the Polish slant on the Dracula story might be.

Jarzyna has said that his aim was to create a mesmerizing performance, which side-stepped the anodyne vampire cult marketed to teenagers today and concentrated on the terror of the original myth, as adopted by the Romantics from medieval folklore. At best, we could enjoy some fine acting by renowned figures in Polish theater, and the two final scenes were indeed creepy and terrifying, when Lucy, in a superficially crude, but in fact very effective digital projection over the live actress, transforms herself into a moth-like creature, or vampiric butterfly, who then fascinates and drains her human prey, and when, in the final scene, Dracula and van Helsing meet and seemingly surrender themselves to one another. Rather than take van Helsing’s blood, the weary vampire walks out through French windows into the light to his destruction. Dust and fragments of dried matter blown in through the window are the last we see of him.

These two scenes were very effective, but the road to them was slow and really quite boring. Instead of Stoker’s alert, active Victorians, Jarzyna gives us jaded contemporaries, who are too cynical, lazy, and lacking in good will even to have a healthy adulterous tumble in bed. The members of the medical profession seemed better equipped for these pleasures, given their access to unconscious patients and their training in scientific examination, but even they didn’t get very far. There were too many long pauses, and I have to confess that the music of the hip Mr. Zorn went by me without registering. Everyone’s timing seemed to be off, and that effectively undermined to work of the impressive talent, both Polish and German…in the person of Dracula himself, played by the highly respected classical actor, Wolfgang Michael, who could well be Germany’s answer to John Hurt or Tom Waits.

About the author

Michael Miller

Michael Miller, Editor and Publisher of New York Arts and The Berkshire Review, an International Journal for the Arts, was trained as a classicist and art historian at Harvard and Oxford, worked in the art world for many years as a curator and dealer, and contributed reviews and articles to Bostonia, Master Drawings, Drawing, Threshold, and North American Opera Journal, as well as numerous articles for scholarly and popular periodicals. He has taught courses in classics, the English language, and art history at Oberlin, Rutgers, New York University, the New School, and Williams. Currently, when he is not at work on The Berkshire Review and New York Arts, he writes fiction, pursues photography, and publishes scholarly work. In 2011 he contributed an introductory essay to Leonard Freed: The Italians / exh. cat. Io Amo L’Italia, exhibition at Le Stelline, Milan, and wrote the revised the section on American opera houses in The Grove Dictionary of American Music. He is currently at work on a libretto for a new opera by Lewis Spratlan, Midi, an adaptation of Euripides’ Medea set in the French West Indies, ca. 1930.

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