Mystery Bouffe

a performance based on texts by Vladimir Mayakovsky, directed by Jerzy Grotowski, first presented at the Theatre of 13 Rows in Opole on 31 July 1960. Alongside fragments from the title piece, the script also consisted of selected scenes from The Bathhouse, which formed the core of both act II, ‘Ziemia, czyli Czyściec’ (Earth, or Purgatory), and also act III ‘Raj ziemski’ (Earthly paradise). The author of the script was, according to the poster for the performance, ‘Hieronymus Bosch in collaboration with Wincenty Maszkowski’. Rena Mirecka was assistant director. Cast: Rena Mirecka, Tadeusz Bartkowiak, Andrzej Bielski, Antoni Jahołkowski, Adam Kurczyna, Zygmunt Molik.

Fragments of the Old Polish morality play Rozmowa Mistrza Polikarpa ze Śmiercią (Master Polycarpus’s conversation with Death) framed the production. The performance began with a monologue by the Promotor, a character introduced by Grotowski to symbolise ‘the order of things’. The Promotor presented the performance’s main objective, namely to show the truth surrounded by jest while mocking ‘the pompous assess’ and ‘conceited wise men who are yet empty on the inside’. Following the Promotor’s prologue, Rozmowy Mistrza Polikarpa began, with emphasis placed on the memento mori theme, which the Promotor summarised with the moral ‘byście śmierć pod uwagę wziąwszy / życie nie na próżno przebyli’ (‘that you all may having paid heed to death / not spend your life in vain’). Act I, titled ‘Ziemia, czyli Piekło’ (Earth, or Hell), presented a sardonic brief summary of the history of humanity adapted from Mystery Bouffe, starting from the Flood, passing through ‘feudalism’ and the false ‘bourgeois’ revolution carried out by the Pure who, in effect, consequently create false democracy where they continue to exploit the Impure, before the act concludes with the rebellion of the exploited (which occurred, in accordance with the order of history, at the time of the Bolshevik Revolution) and the Promotor’s ‘anti-Sermon on the Mount’, in which he presents a true earthly paradise – one which people must build for themselves on Earth. This was followed by the ‘hellish interlude’ [Intermedium piekielne] in which the Impure are attacked by devils and thus reject a ‘fideistic’ Hell, having recognised that things are much worse on an Earth full of exploitation. The second act, ‘Earth, or Paradise’, presented a satirical image of bureaucratized communism taken primarily from The Bathhouse, in which the Impure are still oppressed. The leading figure of this section was Optimistienko (Zygmunt Molik), the emblematic personification of communist bureaucracy and the system’s absurd logic, which the actor depicted physically by standing on his head when presenting monologues. The second act was followed by a ‘heavenly interlude’, analogous with the hellish one, mocking a ‘fideistic heaven’, which the Impure reject since it is full of hunger and boredom. In the scene’s finale, the Impure destroy paradise to a refrain of shouts of ‘Myśmy sami sobie – Chrystusem i Zbawicielem’ (We are our own Christ and Saviour). The mystery triptych is completed by act III, ‘Earth, or Paradise’, comprising a re-arranged version of the final scenes from The Bathhouse. The Promotor reappears on stage, this time as a man from the future who has come to take a chosen few towards the future. Thanks to him the Impure find themselves in an earthly communist paradise where, however, Optymistienko is also present and asks the final question: ‘are you trying to say that I and those like me are not needed by communism?’ The whole piece concludes with an epilogue described as ‘a live image in the style of Bosch’, which consisted of a collective recital of Rozmowy Mistrza Polikarpa ze Śmiercią.

Read as a political allegory, Mystery Bouffe appears to be a particular departure from the idea of salvation through political action. In contrast to Mayakovsky, the Theatre of 13 Rows rejected revolutionary-utopian optimism, confronting the questionable vision of a social ‘earthly paradise’ with questions about the individual experience of death. At the same time, Mystery Bouffe presented a particular synthesis of the director’s experiments: he again employed a cabaret-type staffage (the dramaturgy involved a montage of a series of short scenes and sketches), although Grotowski broke with convention somewhat by employing references to traditions of carnival folk theatre. The actors used relatively few props, with those that they did use often changing their functions. They also each played a number of characters and used special boards with Bosch-type images to inform the audience whom they were playing at a given moment. Grotowski’s December 1960 text, ‘Farsa-misterium (tezy)’ (Farce-Mystery: Theses), which was only published many years later (Pamiętnik Teatralny, 1–4: 2000, pp. 245–254), stems directly from the work on Mystery Bouffe. The text develops and summarises Grotowski’s earlier reflections on the subject of theatre as ‘philosophical play’ leading to the liberating experience of the unity of contradictions. It would appear that this concept, further developed during work on Shakuntalā, owes a great deal to the ideas of Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz.

Mystery Bouffe was shown a total of 56 times, with 45 performances in Opole and eleven as part of guest appearances in Kraków (15 January 1961), Wrocław (18 and 20 March 1961) and Kędzierzyn (8 April).


Compiled by Dariusz Kosiński and Monika Blige
In Polish

Zestawili Dariusz Kosiński i Monika Blige 



Bąk Bogdan: Misteryjne „Misterium”, „Odra” 1960 nr 34, z 28 sierpnia, s. 6. Przedruk „Performer” 2016 nr 11–12, źródło: https://grotowski.net/performer/performer-11-12/misteryjne-misterium.

Falkowski Jerzy: Majakowski na głowie i w cynowej balii, „Współczesność” 1960 nr 17, z 15 września, s. 6. Przedruk [w:] Misterium zgrozy i urzeczenia. Przedstawienia Jerzego Grotowskiego i Teatru Laboratorium, pod redakcją Janusza Deglera i Grzegorza Ziółkowskiego, Instytut im. Jerzego Grotowskiego, Wrocław 2006, s. 127–131.

Falkowski Jerzy: Teatr, który jeszcze szokuje, „ITD” 1960 nr 17, z 13 listopada, s. 12.

Flaszen Ludwik: „Misterium-buffo” – informacja, [w:] „Materiały – Dyskusje” 1960 nr 1 (marzec), Teatr 13 Rzędów, Opole. Przedruk [w:] Misterium zgrozy i urzeczenia. Przedstawienia Jerzego Grotowskiego i Teatru Laboratorium, pod redakcją Janusza Deglera i Grzegorza Ziółkowskiego, Instytut im. Jerzego Grotowskiego, Wrocław 2006, s. 36–37; [w:] tegoż: Grotowski & Company. Źródła i wariacje, wstęp Eugenio Barba, Instytut im. Jerzego Grotowskiego, Wrocław 2014, s. 45–48.

Grotowski Jerzy: Farsa-misterium (tezy), komentarz Janusza Deglera, „Pamiętnik Teatralny” 2000 z. 1–4, s. 245–254. Przedruk [w:] tegoż: Teksty zebrane, redakcja Agata Adamiecka-Sitek, Mario Biagini, Dariusz Kosiński, Carla Pollastrelli, Thomas Richards, Igor Stokfiszewski, Instytut im. Jerzego Grotowskiego, Instytut Teatralny im. Zbigniewa Raszewskiego, Wydawnictwo Krytyki Politycznej, Wrocław – Warszawa 2012, s. 191–197.

Lubecki Władysław: Wielkie nieporozumienie, „Trybuna Opolska” 1960 nr 244, z 13 października, s. 4.

Ryszard [Zbyszko Bednorz]: List z Opola. Misterium Buffo, „Tygodnik Powszechny” 1960 nr 40, z 2 października, s. 6.

Sito Jerzy S.: Dialektyka przemian, „Polityka” 1960 nr 42, z 15 października, s. 7. Przedruk „Performer” 2016 nr 11 –12, źródło: https://grotowski.net/performer/performer-11-12/dialektyka-przemian.

Zdanowicz Janina: Uwspółcześniony Majakowski, „Ekran” 1960 nr 35, z 28 sierpnia, s. 10. Przedruk [w:] „Performer” 2016 nr 11–12, źródło: https://grotowski.net/performer/performer-11-12/uwspolczesniony-majakowski-w-opolskim-teatrze-13-rzedow.



Kudliński Tadeusz: Raczej – „Łaźnia”, „Dziennik Polski” 1961 nr 18, z 21 stycznia, s. 3. Przedruk [w:] Misterium zgrozy i urzeczenia. Przedstawienia Jerzego Grotowskiego i Teatru Laboratorium, pod redakcją Janusza Deglera i Grzegorza Ziółkowskiego, Instytut im. Jerzego Grotowskiego, Instytut im. Jerzego Grotowskiego, Wrocław 2006, s. 132–133.



Mykita-Glensk Czesława: Życie teatralne Opola. Od czasów najdawniejszych do współczesności. Od czasów najdawniejszych do współczesności, Instytut Śląski w Opolu, Opole 1976, s. 206–207 i 285.



Osiński Zbigniew: „Misterium-buffo” według Majakowskiego, [w:] Tadeusz Burzyński, Zbigniew Osiński: Laboratorium Grotowskiego, wydawnictwo Interporess, Warszawa 1978, s. 17–18.



Osiński Zbigniew: Grotowski i jego Laboratorium, Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, Warszawa 1980, s. 76–78.



Wójtowicz Agnieszka: „Największy skandal teatralny naszej doby”. „Misterium Buffo” według Włodzimierza Majakowskiego, [w:] tejże: Od „Orfeusza” do „Studium o Hamlecie”. Teatr 13 Rzędów w Opolu (1959–1964), Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Wrocławskiego, Wrocław 2004, s. 43–48.


Kosiński Dariusz: Farsa-misterium, czyli nie ma innego socjalizmu, „Performer” 2016 nr 11–12, źródło: https://grotowski.net/performer/performer-11-12/farsa-misterium-czyli-nie-ma-innego-socjalizmu. Wersja rozszerzona [w:] tegoż: Farsy-misteria. Przedstawienia Jerzego Grotowskiego w Teatrze 13 Rzędów (1959–1960), Instytut im. Jerzego Grotowskiego, Wrocław 2018, s. 139–193.