You have to hand it to co-artistic directors James Slowiak and Jairo Cuesta and their productions in the Balch Street Theatre. Their plays take on current and troubling social issues, the darker side of human behavior, or the kind of strange actions that result in dark humor. Those qualities simply make their efforts all the more interesting for theatergoers.
This time around they are going international by forging a cooperative venture between The Center for Applied Theatre and Active Culture (CATAC)/New World Performance Laboratory (NWPL) and KulturePlus to present the Warsaw, Poland-based Studium Teatralne in a presentation of “The King of Hearts is Off Again” – in Polish with English subtitles. [That will be something new for most attendees]
The opening words, “There was a family,” kind of implies where the narrative will lead. The family was, not is. That sets a tone.
With these words, we are told an actor begins the harrowing story of Izolda, a woman separated from her husband by the nightmare of World War II. Based on a book by Polish writer Hanna Krall, four actors, playing 20 characters, transport audience members back to that era and the heroine’s epic journey through the monstrosities of war.
“The King of Hearts” is based on the true story of the life of Izolda Regenberg, a young Jewish woman trapped in the Warsaw ghetto with her husband and their families during World War II. The play relates how Izolda escapes from the ghetto and lives disguised as an Aryan Polish woman named Maria Pawlicka.
Her obsession to save her husband is the impetus for the action. She returns to the ghetto to try to free her parents and her husband. He is deported to the death camps.
As Slowiak tells, last year Studium Teatralne artistic director Piotr Borowski, explained his fascination with the play: “During my childhood and youth,” he said, “Polish Jews were rarely mentioned” in stories of Polish history. His adaptation of the play is an effort to bring that story to life.
Cleverly, the story will be presented on a bare stage with few props, and will use several musical motifs (by composer John Zorn) as a unifying element. The focus, through this kind of setting, will be clearly focused on Izolda’s tale.
Besides the scheduled performances, Borowski and his actors will be available for post-show talk-back sessions.
NWPL’s presentation of “The King of Hearts is Off Again” will be performed September 26-29 at 8 p.m. on Thursday-Saturday and 2 p.m. on Sunday at the Balch Street Theatre, 220 South Balch St., Akron; 330-867-3299; www.brownpapertickets.com. Tickets are $15 ($10 for students).