In Sławomir Mrożek’s 1965 satire of life in communist Poland, everything’s topsy-turvy. A family and a couple hangers-on live in a chaotic household in which every member’s role is constantly shifting. It’s a vision of society in flux and disillusioned despair—which shouldn’t be difficult for Americans in 2019 to identify with.
At the beginning, Arthur, the uptight son, is imposing his will on the rest of the clan. Arthur is bent on restoring a sense of order to his anarchic home, but can’t quite settle on a unifying theory under which to govern. He’s horrified that his eccentric father has retreated into an imaginary world of sock-puppetry shows he refers to as his “experiments,” while his mother is openly carrying on an affair with their boor of a neighbor. His grandmother and uncle are similarly debauched. In a desperate bid to bring sense to his world, Arthur decides to marry the neighborhood floozy. He thinks that a traditional wedding will restore honor to his family and begin to build the principled, orderly society he longs for. It all goes sideways.
Utterly committed performances from a standout cast and a crudely painted set of backgrounds on rollers—between which characters keep disappearing—make the instability under which these people live palpable. Though set at a time when Eastern bloc communism was beginning to crumble, the notion that top-down ideas—however well-meaning—can’t truly change society for the better, often leading to authoritarianism instead, should be crystal-clear to anyone living today. Emily Lotspeich directed. v