We had a full house for once, the crowd electric with recent events.
I stood by the curtain as I had so many times before, my hand on the ropes.
It was the seventeenth of September, 1939, almost three weeks after the Nazis had invaded Poland, and we were in the sixth night of what was planned to be a ten-day run of Witkiewicz’s The Madman and the Nun.
Witkiewicz himself was rumored to be in the audience, having fled Warsaw with his lover Czeslawa Korzeniowska.
The actors were more tense than usual, the backstage banter taking the tone of gallows humor.
We could hear the distant thunder of German artillery as the stage manager dimmed the lights to summon the audience to take their seats.
The shells shrieked overhead and thudded into the distant hills.
I said a quick, silent prayer that we might finish the play before the Nazis came.
“The Madman and the Nun,”was written in 1923 by the Polish playwright Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz. Dadaist in its style and denunciatory in its intent, it tells the story a young poet confined in a mental hospital.
The last Polish play at the Juliusz Słowacki Theatre was produced in Autumn 1939.
During Nazi Germany occupation of Poland, the theatre was run by a German troupe.
The theatre reopened for Polish audience in February 1945.