Take one part John Hughes teen-angst movie; add two part “Strangers With Candy;” and mix with a dash of Iron Curtain. Don’t forget to fiddle-faddle, blatherskite, piffle, flapdoodle, flummadiddle, hooey, whangdoodle, jiggery-pokery and twaddle. In case you didn’t catch the last part, that is the definition of “FerdyDurke,” Witold Gombrowicz’s iconoclastic work of modern satire. That’s fer-dih-DORK-eh for the linguistically challenged, emphasis on the DORK.
The Yale Repertory Theatre, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, and Polish Cultural Institute, in conjunction with the world-renowned Polish Teatr Provisiorium and Kompania Teatr are bringing this rare brand of Polish physical comedy to New Haven and the Yale community. The stage production of “FerdyDurke” is an adaptation of Gombrowicz’s original farcical novel of the same title.
Allen Kuharski, producer of “FerdyDurke,” spent six grueling months co-translating the novel from Danuta Vorchardt’s 2000 English edition into an American English-language adaptation of Gombrowicz’s original work.
“It has been rewritten in an American voice and given an American idiom,” Kuharski said. “There’s a lot of play on language in addition to physical comedy — we wanted to render the comical subtleties of word play from the original Polish into the American English-language medium.”
“FerdyDurke,” a keystone to the Polish literary canon, was produced in 1937 just before the onset of World War II. It came to represent a major shift in the landscape of Polish literature — a movement towards the farcical, grotesque novel — that mixes the methods of philosophy and satire. Censored by the Polish government from 1939 to the mid-1980s, “FerdyDurke” came to symbolize everything suppressed by the Iron Curtain and soon gained a popular underground cult following.
“[‘FerdyDurke’ is] a great introduction to Gombrowicz as a writer and playwright. One really gets a sense of his wit, his aggressive comedy, and the brilliance of his language transposed to theatre,” Kuharski said.
“FerdyDurke” is the account of a 30-year-old writer, Josef, whom an evil literature professor morphs back into an adolescent and sends back to school. Along the way he relives the pangs of adolescence from an adult perspective, complete with all the trappings of teenage insecurity, schoolyard teasing, sexual unease and poignant athletic matches.
Tim Young, assistant curator of modern books and manuscripts at Beinecke Rare Books and Manuscripts Library, said the “FerdyDurke” production brings to life aspects of the Polish literary avant-garde.
“FerdyDurke” is also an opportunity to see a Polish genre of physical performance and comedy for which there is no counterpart in American theatre. As Tom Sellar of Theatre Magazine noted, “FerdyDurke” is a unique experience for theater-goers.
“This is definitely not the type of theatre you would expect to see around New Haven. Everyone should check it out,” Sellar said.
“FerdyDurke” draws on a subtext of Polish humor and brings it into the realm of Americana. So if you are looking for some funny physical comedy this Parents’ Weekend, this tale of farcical redemption is a must-see.