Teatr Cogitatur performs for first time in the U.S.

Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

Sometimes, under the radar, a troupe slips into town and you're lucky to catch them before they slip out again.

An experimental Polish company known as Teatr Cogitatur is just such a troupe. "Aztec Hotel," to be presented again Saturday and Sunday only, is the name of the hypnotic hourlong hallucination presented at the Chopin Theatre. Established in Katowice, Poland, in 1981, the troupe has never before played America. I found the work formidable, precise, defiantly mysterious and altogether memorable. And it's in English, yet.

Here's how the program notes describe "Aztec Hotel," which has made the festival rounds in Europe and elsewhere. Creatures from a different world land on Earth and become human, or something like it. They experience the loneliness, isolation and heartsickness we all do, along with the joys, sensory pleasures and satisfactions of, among other things, vodka and cigarettes.

Early on, three nude hotel denizens crouch in profile, alone in their respective boxlike doorways. Later, they appear to slip in and out of mirrors. At various points a "white angel" and a "dark angel," one female, one male, hover over the images of isolation and connection playing out below.

With its melancholy angels and bleak romanticism, the piece carries echoes of the Wim Wenders film "Wings of Desire." "Aztec Hotel" itself carries no conventional narrative. As conceived and directed by Witold Izdebski and Katarzyna Izdebska, it demands a certain letting-go from its audience. Yet it's easy to comply when the theatrical craft is as simple and assured as it is here.

This is unusually astute direction and design on a low budget. Thanks to truly black blackouts between scenes, the actors -- intriguing one and all -- continually pop up where you don't expect them, in configurations you cannot predict. (The final image, which may remind you of a motif used in that overrated Oscar-winner "American Beauty," is a true beauty.)

The five performers -- Marta Waszkielewicz, Maciej Dziaczko, Marek Radwan, Leslaw Witosz and co-director Izdebska -- bounce off one another like well-practiced cohorts. The ensemble's work in total may be too elusive for some, too image-based or paradoxically, in a weird way, too familiar in its angel/human iconography.


I found Teatr Cogitatur transporting, and in those few times in a given theater-going year you find yourself transported, you tend not to second-guess it. Life, as "Aztec Hotel" asserts, is too short" -