ARTS BEAT – February 13, 2013
Vera Gran – The Accused Book Tour
Renowned Polish biographer Agata Tuszyńska, will promote her newest work, Vera Gran—The Accused on an upcoming book tour in Amherst, MA, New York City and Chicago, IL. Readings and book signings will take place. Tuszyńska returns to New York on April 29-May 5 for the PEN World Voices Festival.
Wiera Gran (1916 –2007) was a Polish singer and actress. Reputedly born as Weronika Grynberg, she was also known as Vera Gran and Mariol. Endowed with a uniquely sultry alto voice timbre, she headlined at the Café Paradis in Warsaw in the early 1930s, and later at the Café Sztuka in the Warsaw Ghetto. The café and her accompanist, Władysław Szpilman are remembered in Roman Polański’s film, The Pianist.
Gran escaped from the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II and found shelter in a village, where she hid for three years. After liberation, she toured Poland, and took part in radio broadcasts. In 1947, she was accused in Poland of collaboration with the Germans and despite being acquitted of all charges; she was never able to restore her career to its former glory. In 1950, she moved to France, where she was associated with Charles Aznavour, Maurice Chevalier and Jacques Brel. Later, Gran played Carnegie Hall and Steinway Hall in New York.
Some of her best known songs include “List,” “Wir tańca nas porwał,” “Gdy odejdziesz,” “Trzy listy,” “Fernando,’ “Cicha jest noc.’ “Varsovie de mon enfance,” “Ma Patrie,” and “Mazowiecki wiatr.” While most of her recordings are in the Polish language, she sang in Yiddish in the movie “On a heym” (Without a home).
Although the matter of her conduct during the stay in the Ghetto had never been sufficiently proved by accusers, the experience was painful enough to be used as the main plot of her book, titled The Relay of Slanderers.
Tuszyńska’s current book, newly translated into English by Charles Ruas, tells her story. One of Poland’s leading biographers and writers, Tuszyńska, sought out Vera Gran in a squalid apartment in Paris and interviewed her over a period of three years, researching her claims and allegations in an attempt to render an account of Gran’s life from scraps of memory, refracted through amnesia, paranoia, and delusion.
This controversial book, quickly translated into several languages, is also a subjective account of the author’s struggle to work through her own personal relationship to the Warsaw Ghetto as a daughter of Ghetto survivors, who only learned of her Jewish heritage in her late teens.
Gran’s name has come back to the spotlight, and the book has created a scandal. The main context of Tuszyńska’s work is Gran’s conflict with Andrzej Szpilman, the son of the pianist Władysław Szpilman, who in numerous statements made in the media accused the author and publishing house of tarnishing his father’s good name
The book tour has been organized by the Polish Cultural Institute New York in collaboration with the Chicago Public Library; the Amesbury Professorship in Polish Language, Literature and Culture; and the Adam Mickiewicz Institute.
• Amherst, MA – Feb 26, 7:30 pm University of Massachusetts, Amherst, 601 Herter Hall
• New York, NY – March 5, 7 pm Barnes and Noble, 82nd St. and Broadway
• Chicago, IL – March 7, 6:30 pm, Chicago Public Library Auditorium, Harold Washington Library Center, 400 South State St.
Polish-themed Play arriving Off-Broadway
The acclaimed off-Broadway Atlantic Theater Company will produce the world premiere of Three Kinds of Exile by celebrated writer and Pulitzer Prize finalist John Guare (The House of Blue Leaves, Six Degrees of Separation). The play draws from the author’s experiences of three real exiles from Poland and Czechoslovakia, and will be a rare opportunity to see a piece that’s rich in Polish history and cultural influences.
Guare juxtaposes the stories of three real-life Eastern European artists who were exiled from their homelands and forced to forge new lives far from home. In addition to painting a powerful portrait of what it means to be an exile, he uses his play to rekindle an interest in individuals who’ve made significant impact on the international community but who are, unfortunately, much lesser known to American audiences.
Among these are the writer Witold Gombrowicz, largely underappreciated in his time but now considered one of the foremost figures of Polish literature. He recounts the life of Elżbieta Czyzewska, the 1960s Polish film star who fought unsuccessfully to maintain her career in America after marrying journalist David Halberstam. Guare knew her personally, and following her death in 2010, he was so moved by her struggles that he knew he had to tell her life story.
Among the cast is two-time Tony nominee David Pittu and acclaimed Afro-Polish actor Omar Sangare, who received his Ph.D. from the Theater Academy in Warsaw and acted opposite Czyzewska in a Polish production of Six Degrees of Separation. The cast will also include John Guare himself.
Three Kinds of Exile will play May 15 through June 23 at the Linda Gross Theater, 336 W. 20th St. in Manhattan. www.atlantictheater.org
The Polish Heritage Society of Philadelphia, an affiliate of the American Council for Polish Culture (ACPC) will present its 46th Annual Chopin Concert on Sunday, March 17, 2:00 pm at Holy Family University, Technology Education Center – 9801 Frankford Avenue, Philadelphia, PA. Concert pianist Krystian Tkaczewski will be the featured artist. Born in Tarnow, Poland, Tkaczewski made his Carnegie Hall debut in 2007 and has concertized around the world. A reception follows the recital; for additional information: 215-627-1391.
Skarpetowska’s Black Flowers
The work of choreographer Katarzyna Skarpetowska recently appeared at the Joyce Theater in Manhattan, as part of the program of the Parsons Dance Company. The soulful new piece, Black Flowers, set to Romantic piano pieces by Chopin, explored her Polish roots in what New York Times dance critic Gia Kourlas described as “a somber, mysterious work that hints at ritual.” Robert Johnson of New Jersey’s Star Ledger described it as “an elegy marked by departures and anguished gestures.”
A native of Warsaw, Poland, Skarpetowska first arrived on the scene as the youngest cast member of the Polish production of Metro, which opened on Broadway in 1992 and played 10 performances. She stayed in the United States and became an alumna of the NYC High School of Performing Arts, later receiving a BFA from The Juilliard School. Skarpetowska has danced with Parsons Dance and currently is a member of the Lars Lubovitch Dance Company. She is a free-lance teacher holding workshops throughout the world, and resides in New York City.
Grotowski + Performance Research at Yale
An Open Program of the Workcenter of Jerzy Grotowski and Thomas Richards featuring performances, public meetings and symposia will take place at Yale University in New Haven, CT on February 20 through March 3. Grotowski + Performance Research is a year long program initiated by the Interdisciplinary Performance Studies Yale (IPSY) focusing on the work of Jerzy Grotowski, one of the most influential theater directors of the Twentieth Century. IPSY with support from Polish Cultural Institute New York is hosting the event. For information: www.polishculture-nyc.org; www.ipsy.commons.yale.edu; www.theatrestudies.yale.edu.
Things People Do, from the mundane… to the extraordinary at the Watchung Arts Center features 61 pieces of work from over 20 artists. Agnieszka Solawa will be showing 7 photos including one of a folk kapela. The month long exhibition and sale of artwork in various media will take place through February 28 at 18 Stirling Road, Watchung, NJ. For more information: 908-753-0190.