Category A – E: The official military rankings of men based upon a highly detailed list of criteria include physical dimensions, level of fitness, knowledge of military rankings, and propensity for diseases, including flat feet, eye disorders, psychosis, and androgyny. This is the basis of the Polish military system, as well as the through line of Cezary Goes to War.
The conceit behind Cezary, conceived and directed by Cezary Tomaszewsky, is of a young Polish man, Cezary himself, submitting to the military council a request to be reclassified from his original assessment of Category E to, ideally, Category A. To do so, he proceeds to perform routines in order to prove his fitness and worthiness of a higher rank. However, with five different Cezarys of different size, age, and gender, we don’t get anything nearly as straightforward as a set of exercises and linear, narrative routines. Instead, what we get in an amusing, winking, exploratory imagining of Cezary’s different psyches and personas across his life, in what the production describes as “a musically-driven, queer fantasia on masculinity, nationalism, and the culture of war”.
The best categorization of this production I can think of is clowning, a physical commentary using music, facial expressions, and the body to engage the audience, find humor in timing and movement, and to comment on the ridiculousness of these physical categorizations based on weight, height, and most importantly, sexuality. There is a brilliant nod to 90s Americana in the players outfits and setting. The four male performers and one female pianist are all dressed (at various times, in various stages of undress) in white basketball shorts, black tank top, colorful Adidas track suit jacket, and Nike shoes. Off to the side, bottles of bright blue Gatorade stand ready for the performers to gulp down and toss between each other.
The beauty in the production is all the little moments and attention to detail that come together in a way that make you fall in love with each version of Cezary. Each performer finds little movements and expressions to make Cezary his own, and we vacillate between the earnest, the determined, the campy, the frustrated, and the sincere. Weaving in and out of the clowning and choreography, are repetitions of military evaluations, national Polish songs, and physical fitness drills. It is a witty commentary on conceptions of masculinity, Polish culture, and the standards and stigma of war.
There is a desperation that permeates the choreography and a purposeful lack of elegance that resonates in between the boundless humor and banter the performers have with the audience. We can see the exertions of the performers as they execute their tasks and, rather than make us doubt their proficiency, it instead encourages us to cheer their triumphs and coo at their quirks. For all the camp and humor and physical exertion, Cezary Goes to War is a tightly run ship which makes use of every moment of the production without belaboring any gimmick or idea. Timed with military precision, Cezary Goes to War is a fantastic example of how the playful can still be poignant. Set in a locker room, a location that has recently become a hot button equivalent of toxic masculinity, Cezary challenges all the interlocking fragility of masculinity and patriotism.
- By Cezary Tomaszewski
- Director: Cezary Tomaszewski
- Producer: Polish Cultural Institute and Komuna/Warszawa
- Cast Includes: Michał Dembiński, Weronika Krówka, Oskar Malinowski, Bartosz Ostrowski, and Łukasz Stawarczyk
- La MaMa
- Until: 19 January 2020
- Running time: 60 minutes, no intermission