Thursday, August 24, 2017

Janusz Glowacki

I was sad to learn of the death of Polish playwright Janusz Glowacki, whose play Fortinbras Gets Drunk is one of the funniest (and most frightening) re-imaginings of Hamlet I've ever read.

The New York Times had a great obituary of Glowacki (whose name, according to the Times, should be pronounced gwo-VAHTS-key), though it failed to mention my favorite play of his.

Glowacki was a native of Poland, but when he was in London in 1981 for a production of his play Cinders at the Royal Court Theatre, Poland's Communist government declared martial law, and Glowacki found himself living in exile for the next eight years.

Living abroad (mostly in New York), Glowacki wrote Hunting Cockroaches about the emigre experience, as well as a number of takes on classic plays, including Fortinbras Gets Drunk, Antigone in New York, and The Fourth Sister.

In Glowacki's re-imagining, Fortibras is a kindred spirit of Hamlet. Both are dissidents trying to fight against the corrupt governments of their uncles, but both find themselves in a world where sometimes death is the only authentic choice left to us.

One of the more creative scenes in the play uses occult powers of surveillance so the audience gets to see the final scene of Shakespeare's Hamlet as it might be viewed by foreign spies. Yes, Tom Stoppard had already used similar tricks in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, but in many ways, Glowacki's take is both funnier and more emotional.

Other, more prominent playwrights of the 20th century have passed away recently, but for me, Glowacki is the one who will be most missed.