Having a laugh with Tmuna

Last week, the 2019 Tmuna Festival kicked off a slew of intriguing shows that address themes of identity and sociopolitical conflict.

A SCENE from ‘Cezary Goes to War,’ which will be performed tomorrow (photo credit: PAT MICK)
A SCENE from ‘Cezary Goes to War,’ which will be performed tomorrow
(photo credit: PAT MICK)
The Tmuna Theater in Tel Aviv has hosted all kinds of cultural and artistic fare since it first opened for business 32 years ago. There have been down and dirty rock shows, ethnic musical gigs and, as befitting its titular classification, plenty of thespian creations – largely of the fringe variety.
Last week, the 2019 Tmuna Festival kicked off a slew of intriguing shows that address themes of identity and sociopolitical conflict. Over the next week, the public will be able to catch 20 new works which artistic directors Nitzan Cohen and Nava Zickerman hope will offer “a stage for silenced voices.”
The festival roster also includes a production from abroad called Cezary Goes to War (November 28), which will be performed in Polish with Hebrew subtitles. The combative gent in question is 43-year-old Polish choreographer, director, and performer Cezary Tomaszewski. The play is an autobiographical work of sorts, strung across Tomaszewski’s recollections and high emotions conveyed through a multidisciplinary mix of drama, dance, music and plenty of slapstick humor and acrobatics.
Tomaszewski says the impetus for the project came from a related commission. “[Independent theater] Komuna Warszawa invited me to do a show in a cycle called War,” he recalls, adding that it was not the most inviting or simplest of assignments. “That’s a huge, terrifying, complex subject. I had difficulties finding an honest and clear starting point, allowing me to talk about war without having war experience oneself.”
Still, unfortunately, most people know something about military confrontations, either through personal involvement or hearing/reading about them in the media. It was something Tomaszewski could relate to, and make his own.
“As war is everywhere, and it has also its private and personal backgrounds, I decided for biographical narratives,” he explained. Having decided to go for it, things subsequently fell into place. “The rest was funny coincidences, like portrait of Moniuszko, a Polish 19th-century composer, hanging on the wall in the [communal] toilet and my memories concerning the recruitment process, the draft board for military service – which I had failed.”
He says that, for him, the military screening system is analogous to some of the ills of society in general.
“In the show, the recruitment process is a metaphor for mechanisms of categorizing people into worthy and not worthy based on excluding political narratives,” he explained. “There all those fake ‘system enemies,’ like minorities, LGBT, handicapped people, old people. And there are all the discriminations in our culture concerning appearance – like fat or too slim – or identity, ethnicity and gender.”
Tomaszewski tends to draw on as many of his skills as possible to produce his creative goods. “[I use the] language of theater and choreography to serve music as a main thing. I always start working from music, and each project I’m doing I would link to the music theater category.”
But what is the meaning behind the title of the play? With whom is Tomaszewski fighting? He says there are all sorts of battles going on in the storyline.
“Although it is based on my biography, Cezary turned out to be a kind of character like from a fairytale. He is outcast from the system, not by his own will, and he starts in his maturity to reflect on it,” he said.
The idea was to make the plot as expansive as possible, and get everyone to take a keener look at it all. “[It is about] putting national narratives, history politics, traditions and government documents in, and all the wonderfully kinky and dangerously ridiculous aspects under examination.” Then again, Tomaszewski notes this is not comedy per se. “Not to make fun of it, rather trying to understand how it works, and where it has a danger of becoming its own parody.”
Above all, he wants us to make sure we don’t fall asleep on our watch, and that we don’t lose sight of the heart of the matter. He says the message behind the play is “never take things for granted. Songs often have nice melodies, and nice melodies make us forget what those songs are really about, about what is dangerous.”
The play is shot through with absurd and farce elements, which Tomaszewski uses both as a palliative and as an efficient device for conveying his message. “Humor is, for me, the philosophical and healing way to approach the world and humans. It is a condition, a state of mind, wish, tool of tender observation and communication. Humor helps us to deal with life, even in the darkest moments.”
Tomaszewski is not quite a Don Quixote character, but he does tend to tilt at bastions of power. He feels that adopting a left-field approach to his battles with the powers that be can deliver dividends.
“I believe queer strategies have immense political power,” he said. “[It is about] playing around, fooling around, not [being] dogmatic saying it is like this or that, not manipulating, not trying to make people fight against each other in the name of this or that. Queer strategy works for me like water on stone. Like invisible working to break stone into pieces – from the inside.”
But it’s not all combative stuff. Tomaszewski is also looking to create a sense of community, of unison.
“At the same time it’s all about inviting, and celebrating the fact that people go out and meet in the theater space, to be together and think together, and feel together, and laugh together – against evil outside.”
Cezary Goes to War is clearly, among other things, a rallying call to strive for a better, more accepting, more peaceful world. With that in mind, I asked the director if would like his Israeli audience to come away from the show with some food for thought.
“I don’t want to project anything on any audience. We were performing our show in Sarajevo, where memories of war are very fresh and painful. I am curious and excited to meet and confront our stories with experiences and thoughts of the Israeli audience.”
Considering the abundance of humor in the play, albeit of a predominantly dark hue, one might arrive at the conclusion that, at the end of the day, Tomaszewski is looking to entertain us. That would be a logical bottom line, but not entirely accurate.
“Netflix is the best at entertaining the world,” he states. “Theater is a place of meeting and thinking, asking questions.” Then again, the idea is to keep your consumers as fully engaged as possible in the proffered work of art. “But still, when you invite guests to your birthday party you are not planning to bore them to death, right? I think the same about theater.”
Even so, Tomaszewski is perfectly happy for his audiences to laugh, and especially if he gets us to take ourselves a little less seriously. “That would be great, wouldn’t it?”
For tickets and more information: (03) 561-211 and www.tmu-na.org.il