Pieta with oranges? A passage from Teatr Zar’s The Gospels of Childhood Triptych Credit: Lukasz Gila

Ritual replaces logic in Teatr Zar’s The Gospels of Childhood Triptych. Using a few building blocks—water, wine, dirt and dust, clumsy wooden furnishings—this Grotowski-influenced Polish performance troupe embraces paradox. Traditional Christian symbols get used in very un-Christian ways (wine becomes blood, but in the context of a suicide); degradation and shame butt up against the search for grace and enlightenment. Women in particular are subjected, or subject themselves, to humiliation and exclusion.

The few texts in Triptych go untranslated, though some are delivered in English. Instead, movement and live music—much of it vocal and drawn from the Eastern Orthodox tradition—tell the stories. Sounds of ringing bells and breaking glass punctuate the proceedings. As the title indicates, this unhurried two-hour piece is divided into three sections: the first and third, both performed with the audience seated onstage, seem to be set in an indeterminate past, while the second, staged in an atrium, is more modern in dress and music. As directed by Jaroslaw Fret, all three are dark, yet they shimmer with the light of candles and lanterns and with the energy of the breath in close harmonies.