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UCLA theater brings Polish play ‘Trash Story’ to life in US debut

ANGIE WANG/daily bruin senior staff
The UCLA theater department will put on the U.S. premiere of “Trash Story,” directed by UCLA professor Monica Payne, at MacGowan Hall Friday. Originally written by Polish playwright Magda Fertacz, the play is a contemporary drama about the impact of war on women. (Angie Wang/Daily Bruin senior staff)

"Trash Story" Today, 8 p.m. 1340 Macgowan Hall $7

By Marina Romanchuk-Kapralau

March 6, 2015 12:05 a.m.

Inside the silent walls of Auschwitz, with her head bent over the World War II archive documents, a young woman discovers the mysterious fate of her family.

After conducting research in an Auschwitz concentration camp near Krakow, Poland, the Polish award-winning playwright Magda Fertacz was inspired for her new play.

“Trash Story,” a contemporary drama about the impact of war on women, opens on Friday in Macgowan Hall. Organized by the UCLA theater department, the performance marks the U.S. debut of “Trash Story.”

UCLA alumna and professor Monica Payne, who is the play’s director, said the idea to produce the play at UCLA came from the anthology, “(A)pollonia: Twenty-First Century Polish Drama and Texts for the Stage.” Michael Hackett, former theater department chair, has directed a few plays in Poland and introduced the anthology, co-edited by his colleague Joanna Kass, to the theater department professors.

Payne said she fell in love with the script and decided to direct a UCLA production.

“It is a difficult play ­– a heavy, beautiful piece. It required a lot of energy, heart and soul to get it,” Payne said.

Speaking though her translator, Lucasz Chotkowski, Fertacz said the title “Trash Story” has multiple interpretations.

“I heard the words in my head and realized that there might be so many deeper meanings to it, one of which is valuable memories (about war), that humans forget, or ‘trash,’” Fertacz said.

One of the main themes of the play is the futility of war, Fertacz said. The story is set in the past and present. It is told through the eyes of a 10-year-old girl, Ursula, and touches upon the fates of soldiers who fought in World War II and the Iraq War.

Although Fertacz lives thousands of miles away from Los Angeles, Payne said, there was constant online communication over the last few months between Fertacz and the production crew. Fertacz arrived in Los Angeles on Sunday and will be present at the “Trash Story” premiere.

Payne said she took a trip to Poland in December 2014 to discuss the dramaturgical questions of the play with Fertacz and to learn more about life of the contemporary Polish theater.

“I think I saw 15 Polish plays in seven or eight days. It was very important for me to observe the strength and power of the Polish theatrical culture and to try bring back and push it into the ‘Trash Story’ production process,” Payne said.

The script, translated into English by Benjamin Paloff, uses German, Russian and Romani – the language of Gypsies. One of the biggest challenges, Payne said, was to trace the play back to its Polish origins, but at the same time to make it accessible to all.

“We are trying to create a design that is specific, but is also universal, so it fits its original context, but it also fits us in Los Angeles, which has been an interesting design task,” Payne said.

Fertacz said she is used to seeing her plays performed in different tongues. The script was previously translated into 10 languages, including German, Russian and Hebrew.

“It is a very specific experience,” Fertacz said. “Sometimes directors do completely different things with the play, but it is interesting every time.”

Graduate theater student Jeannette Godoy plays Ursula, and the widow of the soldier who committed suicide after coming back from the Iraq war. Godoy said “Trash Story” actors had to do a lot of research for their roles; a large part of the process was getting familiar with the history of Poland and discovering how blind the world can be to war.

Payne said she is unsure about the American audience’s response to the performance, but she hopes it will be understood and accepted by all viewers.

“I suspect the audience will learn something about World War II and probably the conflict in Iraq also,” Payne said. “I think there are many historical facts that the play addresses, that are either unknown to Americans, or were purposefully forgotten.”

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Marina Romanchuk-Kapralau
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