BWW Review: Masculine Stereotypes Skewered with Humor in CEZARY GOES TO WAR at La Mama
Cezary Tomaszewski has created a "musically-driven queer fantasia" exposing the dangers of masculinity, nationalism and the culture of war. La Mama is presenting the U.S. premiere of Cezary Goes to War in conjunction with the Polish Cultural Institute and Komuna//Warszawa, an independent avant-garde theater. This work will be appreciated by theatergoers who enjoy a refreshing splash of humor mixed into their subversive societal commentary.
Poland's military draft and its archaic system of male classification is the ripe target which is mercilessly skewered here. Mr. Tomaszewski uses his personal experiences with the military draft to poke fun using music, text and dance. Four men and one woman (the pianist) enter a locker room. The classification begins in Polish with English surtitles.
Category A is a male of impeccable physical condition, height over five foot nine with a harmonious body build. More specifics? The perimeter of the shoulder when the bicep is tense should exceed the perimeter of the straightened forearm at its thickest point by 20%. There are other measurements elaborated upon. Lastly, no disfiguring tattoos.
Down the category list we travel until reaching the bottom letter E. "Male, posture defective to a degree detrimental to body function." Diseases and deficiencies that qualify include extra ribs, crossed eyes, tongue deformity leading to speech impediment and, of course, androgyny. The lists, especially for E, are quite funny and wittily presented.
Wearing aerobic gym clothes, the men will perform choreography inspired by army drills and calisthenics. The routines are a workout and the men are sweaty by the end of the performance. The vignettes include song and dance numbers composed by Stanislaw Moniuszko (the father of Polish National Opera) and also by Händel, Debussy and Shostakovitch. The staging and use of a single piano reminded me of a school auditorium environment from my youth.
The routines continue and the critique of military recruitment is broadened to a more general commentary of definitions of manliness and the male identity. In one section a sequence is repeated. Each performer showcases a unique personality. The smirks are revealing. Some of these young men might be in the Category E classification!
These personal observations expand into a sharp criticism of national pride and machismo without ever losing the jocularity of the piece. Mr. Tomaszewski's direction is very effective at sustaining a playful tone. As a result, the material is cleverly entertaining while ridiculing long-held belief systems.
A song is sung which translates as follows: "When the sun is up/ when my helmet says good morning/ when my sword rattles in hand/ when I hear the horse's neighing/ when the bugle calls/ oh! how happy he who these sounds and pleasures knows!" The glories and memories of knighthood do not reflect any grim horrors of war. The cast sings a lyric from Pink Floyd to punctuate the theme. "So you think you could tell, heaven from hell?"
There is a loose story arc in Cezary Goes to War whereby Cezary applies to the Draft Board for a reevaluation of his classification. All four dancers seem to represent Cezary or several variations of the artistic male. The performances are energetic and communicative. Their eyes knowingly wink at the humor and hypocrisy of a world which refuses to eliminate categorical boxes.
Early on, one says, "My name is Cezary Tomaszewski and I am musically gifted." This show satirizes the male gender stereotype by means of a slyly subversive amusement. What clearly emerges is a celebration of the variants which make artistic expressions such as this one come to life.
Cezary Goes to War is being performed at La Mama Experimental Theatre Club through January 19, 2020.