I’m no expert on Eastern European ethnic humor, but judging by Dorota Maslowska’s A Couple of Poor Polish-Speaking Romanians, Romanians are a preferred punchline in Poland.
So maybe the play’s first scene, in which two stoned “Romanians” terrorize a hapless Pole after hitching a ride, is funnier in the original Polish. Here, it’s just a couple of tweaked-up clowns humping furniture and yelling in fakey foreign accents. We quickly learn, however, that these Romanians aren’t actually Romanians—they’re merely stoned Poles pretending to be Romanians (these distinctions make all the difference). After teaming up at a poverty-themed party, they’ve decided to raise the kind of hell that only Polish-speaking Romanians can raise. But the ethnic drag act works too well, and they end up really broke and lost.
Allegory alert! The brash new capitalist European Poland is trying desperately to repress its tatty past as a deprived Eastern Bloc nation.
Maslowska’s background as a novelist shows. Her characters never say something once if they can shout it twice, or sob it three times. Perhaps because of the hyper-talkiness, director Paul Bargetto maintains a caffeinated pace—but the screaming and twitching only emphasizes the script’s lack of momentum. Somewhere along the way, like the duo themselves, we get lost in translation.