In His image and likeness written and directed by Piotr Trojan is a story about one of the most prevalent desires of people living in the mass-media dominated 21st century; namely, an unhealthy desire to reach physical perfection. “My brother used steroids and they made him a big man. I followed in his footsteps and strange things happened to my body. I haven’t accepted it until now. For 10 years I’ve been working out at the gym where I meet different people every day and write down their stories. I want to save them from oblivion and show them onstage” said the director before the play’s premiere. However, the urge to present as many forms the disastrous obsession with fitness can take as possible has led to the play being a visually attractive but nonetheless chaotic bundle of loosely related stories.
The main plot revolves around a family of two brothers, Eryk (Grzegorz Gołaszewski) and Piotr (Nikodem Kasprowicz), brought up by a single mother (Martyna Zaremba-Maćkowska) who embodies the ideals of a small-town society: the preoccupation with strength and good physical health. Thus, it is Eryk who works out for hours to maintain muscular physique who is the apple of her eye, and not the weak, sickly Piotr, whom she accuses of coughing too laud. While the former continues leading the life of a provincial fitness star, the latter attempts to fulfil his dreams of participating in Mars One, a project whose crew is going to become the first permanent residents of Mars and say on the Red Planet until their death.
The subplots tell the stories of people whose existence revolves around their physicality as well. There is, for example, an elderly body of a grandmother who, in spite of being over 70 years old, is still passionate for life and love; nevertheless, she recognizes her wrinkles and skinfolds as a reason for being denied any form of affection. There is also a distorted body of Ewa who, seeming cool and chirpy, turns out to be suffering from anorexia. Obsessed with her toned body containing too much fat to comply with the requirements laid down by the organizers of Mars One casting she decides to undergo liposuction and has her leg amputated as a result of an unsuccessful surgery.
It seems that Piotr Trojan’s aim was to show the body as a source of suffering, either physical or mental, as is the case with Ewa and Piotr respectively. While the play conveys this message well, its pace leaves much to be desired. The rapidly unfolding scenes filled with hilarious dialogues are intertwined with rather longish sequences, which in the end reveal the director’s inability to focus only on these events which contribute to the character or plot development and leave a chaotic impression.
However, there are certain elements of the play that need to be complimented. To begin with, Patrycja Płanik’s video projections perfectly immerse the spectators into the surreal provincial world of gossips and distorted values. They accompany the characters throughout the performance, subtly pointing to the central role that the mass media play in shaping our perception of attractiveness. Then, there is the distinct language of In His image and likeness. Filled with colloquialisms and references to Polish everyday life, the words uttered by the play’s characters not only amuse but also paint an accurate picture of a Polish small town. Finally, the acting of Trojan’s cast deserves to be appreciated. The unquestionable star of the performance is Grzegorz Gołaszewski whose character is anything but a unidimensional musclehead he seems to be at the beginning of the play. While he isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, Eryk turns out to be a straightforward young man who preaches self-acceptance on YouTube and desires to fall in love one day. Superb is also the acting of Martyna Zaremba-Maćkowska who portrays the mother as an abusive woman who treats her son like a piece of art that can be endlessly reshaped in order to conform to her ideal of masculinity.
Unfortunately, the cast’s brilliant acting as well as fine visual projections get lost in the abundance of stories Piotr Trojan tries to tell in his play. In His image and likeness remains an aesthetically pleasing and entertaining but somewhat superficial tale of the disastrous consequences of mindless pursuit of physical perfection with an extra-terrestrial background.