Your play "The Stigmatized" is about F. Kafka and Dora Diamant. Kafka is one of the best known writers of last century. Is he well known in Poland?
Kafka became the world-wide recognized Icon. His face is as known as the Marilyn Monroe's faces by Andy Warhol or even his Campbell's soup can. Kafka is recognized as a symbol of modernism, and I would even say that he became a symbol of postmodernism. That way he is also percepted in Poland. His name itself is connected also with formalism, uniformism and absurd, police situations. The Czechs have the expression "kafkarna" for the absurdly formal situations. I have to tell that I like this "kafkarna" a lot, but we, the Poles, do not have a similar expression connected with Kafka's name. So, I would say, that Kafka is percepted, but not known. And this situation is not particular Polish, but world-wide. People know the name, associate it with some values but don't really read his books. I think that Kafka himself is much better known than his work itself. But coming back to your question, The Stigmatized is a play somehow connected with Kafka and Poland, because the main character of the play is Dora Diamant, his last love, the woman for whom he broke the strict and somehow inprisoning relation with his Family. For Dora he left home, he left Prague and moved to Berlin. With Dora he had spent the last year of his life. With her he matured, became independent and finally felt free. With her he really felt himself. Poor but happy. Dora was a quite well educated girl from a Poland's Jewish family. She was born in a place called Pabianice, close to a factory Jewish Polish town, Lodz. And I would like to add that her daughter had a Polish-sound name Franziska Marianna. Franziska, of course, as the feminine form of Franz.
What's the reason of your interest in them?
Dora Diamant is just a great figure for a biographer and an excellent character for the playwright. I wrote few plays and I was always interested in strange, fighting against the life and world personalities. I am interested in personalities who know what the battle is, what the strength is, what the creating themselves is. My first play titled On the branch tells the story of two women. An older war correspondent and excellent journalist meets in oncology hospital a young girl trying to save herself from a cancer. They both are sic but the woman is less stronger than the girl is. She's trying to learn how to fight for her life, for her saving. They both learn something from each other. How to win the life. My second play Biography is a drama among 3 people: an actress, her husband - theatre director and a journalist. The journalist is asked to write their biography. When they try to look back at their life they got to the point that their life was lost somehow. What the success is? And what means a real relationship between the couple of artists? What they did - they played the life. My next drama Attention - bad dogs! is a story of a schizophrenic woman, wife of a great Polish playwright, Jerzy Szaniawski. The play's action starts after the death of Szaniawski. The woman still is convinced that he lives. She behaves as he was still alive. Even tries to abuse him. She makes him to become her victim. But one moment she realizes that she is sick. And her world ends at this moment.
As you can see all the characters of my plays, women, are difficult, but all of them are not the effect of my imagination. These women lived for real. They were fighting against the world, life and reality. And were fighting to feel free. This is a constant topic of my writing. I wrote a stage adaptation of Patty Diphusa by Pedro Almodovar. Patty is another woman, this time porn star who also played her life but finally realized that, when she is taking off her false reality, her costume, her red wig, she doesn't really know how to live. So even here, with the Almodovar's character, I came to the same topic. Acting is very important topic of my work. And who was Dora Diamant if not an actress? Who she really was? I think that after the death of Franza Kafka she was shouting how much she suffers, she still was the "widow", Kafka's widow, even if she was not his real wife. She was playing the Kafka's widow till she died. And who was Kafka if not the actor? He wanted to be an actor. Look at his interest in the theatre, the topic of my book on Kafka called Bagaze Franza K. (The luggage of Franz K.), published in Poland in March 2004. My play on Dora was published there.
Does Dora's 'portrait' in your play tally with her real life?
As I mentioned the characters of my plays are real people. This means that my imagination is put in the theatre situations. What is written in my play on Dora Diamant happened for real. It means that there is the historical truth. But of course the dialogs, the situations are mine. When Dora remembers the first meeting with Kafka, it means that I have built the scene on the documentary, historical materials, rememberances of Dora. It is the example but the whole play is based on reality. I am a journalist by profession and maybe that's why I am taking the "material" from the real life. The spirit of a writer fights against the soul of a journalist. I am built of both. Trying to find the compromise is not easy. The play on Dora Diamant was written from my interest. I was writing the chapter of my Kafka book, the chapter on Dora Diamant. I had the collected documentary but still couldn't really hear Dora, hear her talks with her daughter, feel her language, her expressions. I tried to imagine her. To see her real. And I started to write the play. I wrote the first dialog among her, the radio journalist and psychologist while broadcasting, I am talking now about the first scene. I heard how she says about "my but not my story". It opened her for me. Because her life was hers but not hers at the same time. I know it sounds difficult, hope that my play explains it better than I can do it. I wrote the play during the whole 3 days and nights, not really eating, not leaving home. I wrote as I had only this in my life. Nothing else was important. I felt sick and I knew that I will feel sick as long as the play is finished. It is a difficult play, also for me as a writer. I tried to understand why Dora decided to educate her child as the Kafka's daughter and why she had taken her daughter's life. I am not sure if I understood, but now I know more.
How did you search for it?
I worked on my book on Franz Kafka for six years. Dora is one of the most important characters of my book. I tried to find everything what was published, written or just related with her. I am a journalist, as I mentioned, and I love the research, the archives. My work is to discover. Dora for years was just the shadow. It was inspiring. Especially for me, the journalist living in Poland, in Warsaw, not so far from Pabianice, where she was born. I came to Pabianice to feel her better, but this, in my work, is understandable. While I was working on my book I heard that in San Diego there is a woman called Kathi Diamant, a journalist, writer and actress. She was working on Dora's biography for 20 years. They were not a family, but having the same surname with Kafka's last love... that is something. I contacted her. We were in an e-mail contact exchanging our discoveries. She mentioned it in her book on Dora, I mentioned it in mine on Kafka. She was an important person for me to understand Dora. Our e-mail correspondence was exciting. I had sent her a question like this: "Do you really think that Dora could know Millie Chissick, another Kafka's woman, Jewish actress, living as Dora in London, in Whitechapell?" Dora was writing theatre reviews and Chissick was the actress who Kafka so much and precisely described in his diary as Madame Chissick. She was working in Jewish theatre in London. I thought - that is fascinating. Many years after Kafka's death, two actresses, two women of his life lived in neighbourhood, so far from Prague. Of course Madame Chissick was just his theatre fascination, he had not a relationship with her - as he had with Dora. But still it was fascinating. We were e-mailing with Kathi Diamant questions like this.
Your play is part of a book, "Bagaze Franza K.", that contains another piece. Can you tell us anything about this book (and about the connection between the two parts of it)?
The luggage of Franz K.is a strange book. One reviewer called it "the fact roman", what actually is not far from the style of my book. It is written as a prose but it contains only the historical truth. Again, these two souls fighting in me... The book has few topics. The most important is the connection of Franz Kafka with the Jews from Poland, especially the actors, but also with Poland itself. So the book tells the story of the life of Jacques Loewy, Kafka's Warsaw friend, actor and teacher, the mentioned Madame Chissick, Franz's relation with Dora Diamant, but also the martirology of Kafka's sisters. All of them was killed in Poland. Ottilie, the beloved one, in Auschwitz. Another history - her efforts to save the Jewish children from Bialystok ghetto. Two other Kafka's sisters and their husbands were taken to Lodz ghetto and later were killed in a concentration in Chelmno. Franz Kafka is just the shadow of my book. If his life is told, it is told by the people related with him somehow. Another topic of this book is the Jewish theatre in Europe and its influence on Kafka's work and his interests in judaism. The plot of my book starts by the end of XIX century and ends almost by the end of XX century, when the last, related with him people dies. It has a form of a train journey around Europe. That's why the book has "luggage" in the title.
Is there in your book also your interpretation of Kafka's life and work?
I tried to find the key to Kafka's work in acting. Before the book was published I was invited for the Kafka Conference in a Polish town Slupsk, Northern Poland. It was a literature conference. The professors were debating about Kafka's connections with Bruno Schulz, Kant, Kierkegaard and others. Kafka would be happy not to be there. And the professors were not to serious about me as about kind-of-a-biographer. I was telling about Kafka as an actor. It was quite strange for them. And after, while we were sitting at the dinner, one of them told me: "I have never thought about Kafka that why. It changes my point of view on his writing." I was proud, but my discovery was not actually my discovery. The theatre influence on his work was always visible and studied. But I must tell that my book is not a biography of Kafka. It is just my story on his world.
Did you write other books?
I published two books with my poetry and I published few journalist books. As a journalist my main interest is in interviewing people. There is a great story about Melchior Wankowicz, the master of a Polish journalism, great personality. He was in a train. It was just the beginning of the day. It was the line between night and day. The train was crossing the sleeping villages. Wankowicz saw a little light in a small house, a little far from the train. The train stopped at the station, Wankowicz left it and went to this house. He spent two days with the family living in this little house. It was the moment he was born as a reporter. I became the journalist to come into such houses and to meet people. Interviewing gives me more than opportunity. I published three books with interviews. I published also some of my short stories. The luggage of Franz K. is my first, so serious novel.
Are you writing anything else now?
My head never stops writing, while me, myself, get to write occasionally. Most of my writer's time is dedicated to collecting the material. When the collecting is finished, also the book is finished in my imagination. I have few topics now. But it looks that they are very difficult and it will take 5-6 years before I will be ready to show a new book. I am researching on the history of a communist Poland, and more precisely on anonymous letters written by the citizens, sent to the special services. In those letters they were informing about the life of their neighbours, about the life of their relatives. Some time ago I met a great Polish actress living in Paris, Anna Prucnal. She played in Fellini's The women's town the wife of Mastroianni. She had also a great role in Dusan Makavejev Sweet movie. She couldn't come to Poland for 15 years because of playing in Sweet movie, anti-soviet film. When she came back to Poland, after these years, she could read her files. She found the letters on her written by her friends and Family. It was a real disappointment for her, for sure a pain. The communism didn't end in 1989. It is still in people's blood. I have a big interest in this topic. I think it will give a book on a Polish history told by those letters. But it is a long and a hard work. I am sure soon I will finish my next play. I have it in my mind. It is written there. Just to seat.
© 2003-2005 Elisabetta Bertozzi - tutti i diritti riservati