A wry little man in a rumpled white suit and a garish rubber mask high-steps onto the wet parking lot, in the middle of Katowice's shopping district on a cold autumn night. He clips around a series of red oil drums, rolling them around to positions with no obvious pattern or intention. Without any spoken commentary (but plenty of physicality), he pulls out a series of objects from the drums: a gilded sculpture of a human torso, a pair of baby dolls that cry and scream, and a batch of red balloons, which he proceeds to hand out to the audience.

He gave me a balloon. Arguably my proudest moment in Poland.

At this point a large, brooding Cadillac, dating back perhaps to the Ford administration, switches on its headlights and slowly rolls into the playing space.

I should mention that at this point in the performance--and indeed throughout the whole evening--a most excellent soundtrack of funk mixed with smooth something underscored the onstage events with perfect pitch. The excitement and the energy of the performance rolled around the slick parking lot with such intensity that people hardly noticed when it started to rain.

Three characters emerge from the Cadillac: a seductive woman in a clinging white dress, with matching pumps, boa and bonnet, accompanied by two tall men in black suits with matching ties and fedoras. Rumpled Mask then joins the three in ecstatically, cloyingly, lovingly polishing and marvelling at this battered black Cadillac, whose windows keep fogging up.

At some point Rumpled Mask melts into the audience, as the action moves from the Cadillac to the oil drums and the audience, while White Dress pulls out a briefcase stuffed with American bills. At which the Black Suits adopt menacing poses, and begin chucking plastic colored balls at the audience. Quite forcefully pelting people, or tossing them way overhead, or out into the streets (the taxi drivers cheerfully tossed them back). This lasts some time.

The music and the lights shift attention to the top of the Cadillac, where White Dress now stands with a container drawn from one of the oil drums. To the rousing chorus of the Wonder Woman theme, she expertly evokes all the kitschy excitement of a game show girl, pulling out number after number from the container. At this point you realize that the balls the Suits were pelting you with all have numbers, and many in the audience, bless their hearts, begin scrabbling in the puddles looking for the matching number.

The suits take a pair of powerful spotlights into the audience, combing around the plastic balls, forcefully and almost desperately looking for the number. But mostly they just mess with people, leading them on and pulling them around and shoving their way to the back and front again.

Finally someone raises their hand and steps out a little awkwardly onto the playing space, holding the matching number. He's carrying a stained paper shopping bag and his suit is badly rumpled, his expression set to varying degrees of bewilderment. The music and the Suits and the Dress all explode with enthusiasm. They do a victory lap where all four shake hands with everyone in the audience. The three dress up Rumples in Dress's white boa, champagne comes out of nowhere, and everyone takes turns taking pictures of each other in the familiar poses of achievement, with the Cadillac providing a fitting backdrop. Flowers come out of one of the oil drums. In all of the excitement, Rumples hardly notices that one of the Suits took the briefcase to free up his hands, and suddenly everyone's piling back into the Cadillac but the doors keep locking when Rumples tries to get in. He realizes he doesn't have his money. He realizes he doesn't even have his shopping bag.

He defiantly (if awkwardly) steps in the Cadillac's path, refusing to let them leave him. The Cadillac obligingly growls, and threatens him, and soon Rumples realizes the Cadillac is perfectly willing to hurt him. At which he backs away into us, and the Cadillac again rumbles and lurches, freaking out the audience and Rumples equally.

The Suits pile out and begin to beat Rumples, quite violently. White Dress steps out with boxing gloves, which the Suits take, roughly handing a pair to a dazed Rumples. Dress rings a bell, and the combatants break off and lean against the car or the oil drum, with their best Ali-vs.-Foreman expressions, doing the whole towel-and-spit thing. But it really is a one-sided fight, and the remaining Suit spends some time enjoying himself, playing with Rumples with classic Chaplin and Buster Keaton moves. Until suddenly Rumples finally does manage to land a knockout punch and a crotch kick before anyone realizes what's happening, and the other Suit has to pull Rumples off while White Dress grudgingly hands Rumples the money again.

Then something shifts, and White Dress starts clinging to Rumpled Guy, while the Suits nurse bloody noses and dagger looks. Somehow everyone manages to communicate to the audience that, to patch up this regrettable little misunderstanding, the characters have decided to all go boating together. The clamber up on top of the Cadillac, one suit on the hood, one on the trunk, both grimly doing gondolier duty. Dress and Rumples sit on the roof, popping open more champagne, Rumples growing more and more smitten, Dress vapid and coy. It's a pleasant day on the river. Here, honey, let me hold the briefcase for you. Hell, no. Ducks go paddling by. Look at the willows.

Soon Rumples gets it in his head that in order to impress the Dress, he should start rowing, too. But he's had a few too many swigs of champagne, and he almost falls off the boat, so the Suit, like any good servant, refuses to hand him an oar. Rolls his eyes. But Rumples persists. Suit is firm. Rumples is determined. So Suit hands over his oar, and joins Dress with the champagne.

Rumples starts rowing. But the other Suit at the back is still steering, which is an affront to any man's masculinity. After some effort, Rumples is rowing alone, with some difficulty, while the Suits are living it up with Dress and the champagne. It's still a pleasant day on the river. Ducks go paddling by. Look at the willows.

But Rumples doesn't really know how to row. And he's wrongfooted by the supercilious suits who now order him around, and Dress doesn't even notice him anymore. He doesn't notice, or he can't help it, when the Cadillac drifts into some choppy water. He tries to stop and ask for help, but the Suits backhand him and, whether out of folly or anguished resignation, Rumples goes into the drink.

When he surfaces again, the tableaux has changed dramatically. The briefcase is sitting on the hood, and one of the Suits pulls a gun out of it. The Suits then position themselves opposite one another, and Dress positions Rumples opposite her, so that all four are standing on the points of a compass, where the Cadillac is North and the audience is South.

The Suit at the audience takes aim at the Suit at the Cadillac. Dress smiles. Rumples doesn't get it. The tension, musically and physically, is unbearable. Suit shoots, and when nothing happens, both Suits are visibly relieved. Rumples flinches with the trigger, taking his awkward bewilderment to its most precarious height.

The Suits and Dress shuffle around, rotating in some inscrutable pattern. Rumples is to the right, Suit 1 is on the left, and a relieved Suit 2 is taking aim at Dress. Tension again, Rumples makes a move to block the shot but the other Suit holds him back. Pulls the trigger, nothing happens, shuffle again.

Dress has the gun. Rumples is the victim, the Suits on either side, holding Rumples in place. Rumples starts to plead, but before he can even say anything, Dress pulls the trigger and nothing happens. Shuffle again.

Now Rumples has the gun. A hapless Suit is the victim. And this time, predictably but startlingly, a shot rings out and the Suit is thrown back. Rumples is horrified. The others calmly and sadly take the body around to the trunk. The remaining Suit then hands Rumples the fallen Suit's fedora, and the briefcase with the gun. Dazed, Rumples is pushed into the front seat.

The Cadillac starts up, does a three-point-turn and trails out of the parking lot. The last image is of a leg dangling out of the lip of the trunk, with the vanity license plate lit up, which says "CADILLAC", of course.

This was the best piece of work I saw in Poland. Check out the link to see Teatr Usta Usta's website.



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