The Story “Wooden Wars” focuses on the lives of four young Catholics from modern Poland, each of whom changes forever when they discover that they might have Jewish roots. Sisters Zosia and Ania separate as one travels to America, converts to reform Judaism, and embraces her lesbian sexuality, while the other stays behind in Poland and marries a Chabadnik. Both come to speak Yiddish at home. Their stories are intertwined with those of their friends Jakub and Tadek, two young men whose own relationships with Jewish identity and Yiddish language are troubled. Neither as children nor as adults do the characters have control of their fates. Various paranormal forces are involved in the action, and Jesus appears to sing in Yiddish.
The title “Wooden Wars” refers to a cultural battle in contemporary Poland that’s highlighted in the play by two symbolic wooden artifacts: wooden crosses, and wooden figurines of Jews. These figurines, made of wood or clay, are a part of contemporary Polish culture. People buy them as amulets believing that they will bring happiness to their households. This article explains their meaning:
“Wooden Wars” starts in English and Polish, but gradually includes more Yiddish so that by the second act almost all of the performance is in Yiddish. This structure asks us to reflect: Is Yiddish the key to understanding the Polish-Jewish past? For the audience’s ease, an English translation will also be projected as subtitles.
Ania: (Later known as Frime) – very shy and serious, silent, pretty.Ania doesn’t like interacting with the other kids and prays when no one is watching her. She constantly fiddles with her hands and is paranoid of being watched. Ania is intimidated by her sister, Zosia. Frime speaks the Polish dialect of Yiddish. She can be distinguished by her red skirt, white blouse, and rosary in Act I, and by a white blouse, grey skirt, and sheytl (head scarf) in Act II.
Jakub: A nerdy, brainy, courageous outsider. He stares at maps all the time and travels in his dreams. Jakub is lumbered with a chronic cold. He speaks broken Yiddish and uses Hebrew words here and there. He wears a big black hat, white shirt, black vest, and red pants.
Zosia: (Later called Rus) – funny, brave, silly, talkative, homely.Zosia enjoys making fun of her sister Ania and challenging people. Zosia gets bored very easily. Zosia/Rus speaks YIVO Yiddish with a very strong American accent. She can be identified by her red harem pants, white and red shirt, and red hat in Act I, and all black outfit in Act II.
Tadek: Energetic, self-confident, vulgar, stubborn, and a bully. He is arrogant and a “my way or the highway” kind of person; you’d better watch out for him. . He dons brown hat, brown pants, and a red, plaid sweatshirt, and often, a bottle of vodka.
Jake: Rus’ partner. Jake is very kind, tries to be on good terms with everybody, and a tango expert. Jake is a weed smoker and speaks bine Yiddish (stage Yiddish) with a very strong American accent. Her Yiddish is brilliant. She wears a black dress and boots.
Yitskhok: Frime’s husband, a Chabadnik. He is religious, smart and practical, not very devoted to his wife. Yitskhok has a very strong Hassidic American accent when he speaks Yiddish.Yitskhok fashions a black head covering, a black suit, and a prayer shawl.
Wooden Jew: The wooden Jew is enthusiastic and loves to dance. It does not want to be found and captured by the Salesman. The Wooden Jew’s appearance is companied by a Hassidic tune. The Wooden Jew can be recognized by its long beard, black hat, large coat, and ginormous boots.
Salesman: He has a Santa Claus-like figure– energetic and a little pushy… He loves his job. The Salesman is the guy with the burlap sack marketing Wooden Jews.
The Author and Director of Wooden Wars
Jana Mazurkiewicz is a PhD student at the Slavic Department at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. As a Yiddishist, she is devoted to rescuing the dying Yiddish language and culture. She would like to demonstrate that Yiddish can be revived not only in academia but also in the arts, and strives to encourage a discussion about a revival of Yiddish as a stage language and as a means of exploring the current state of Polish-Jewish relations.
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Photos from Past Showings of Wooden Wars – Video & Cast Members 2015