If Chekhov was alive and living in Poland, he might have created this version of Krum, Hanoch Levin’s 1975 play about a man who returns home from abroad. In the hands of director Krzysztof Warlikowski and his superb ensemble from TR Warszawa, Levin’s drama of Israeli families and friends surrendering to time becomes a metaphysical meditation on the impossibility of fulfillment and the onset of death. Though set in Tel Aviv, Warlikowski’s production rotates brutal, comical, and beautiful scenes with a fluidity only found in Polish theater.
When the maturing Krum (Jacek Poniedziałek) comes back to his home town after years away, he perceives—and gradually shares—the boredom, anger, and desires of his friends and family’s lives. He watches time’s destructive march: Liaisons lead to marriages, births, and funerals; dreams and desires turn to dull disillusionment. In the title role, Poniedzialek makes Krum’s passivity as moving as his anguish. When Krum dances at clubs and parties, the actor embodies pent-up pride and animal lust; when he sips champagne with a dying friend, he’s the picture of a stoical man staring grief in the face.
Krum’s intermissionless 165 minutes display Warlikowski’s unhurried but exquisite mastery of time and space. At his best—dispersing his tapestry of bodies, light, and scenes across a spare set—this exciting young director situates eccentric domestic behavior against sublime realms. Despite a sentimental note that creeps into the final scene’s mourning song, Krum powerfully evokes how unhappiness can destroy, leaving us to grasp life only when death darkens the door.