Besides satisfying the general curiosity about Pope John Paul II's (Karol Wojtyla's) play writing, "The Jewelers Shop," subtitled "A Meditation on the Sacrament of Matrimony, Passing on Occasion into a Drama," will be of great interest to scholars interested in Polish literature and twentieth- century theatre. The noted critic Boleslaw Taborski, selected by a special papal commission to do the translation of the play, has acquitted himself of the task splendidly. His informative introduction presents the Pope as a committed thespian and playwright and offers a solid analysis of the work. Taborski compares Wojtyla to such contemporary dramatists as T. S. Eliot and Pinter and establishes the roots of his play in medieval mysteries, baroque allegories and the conventions of the Rhapsodic Theatre (an underground theatre of which Wojtyla was a co-founder in 1941). Following the conventions, which minimize the visual aspects of performances in favor of the spoken word and the meaning it implies, The Jeweler s Shop is essentially a static play. Yet it is dramatically effective and astonishingly modern in its technique. Composed of loose scenes and monologues that only tangentially converge to create the impression of a dialogue, the play is unified in a twofold way: thematically, in that all three acts deal with various phases of marital love; and on a more superficial level, in terms of the locale through repeated reminiscences of or references to the jeweler's shop.
Originally published in the Catholic journal Znak (Cracow, December 1960) under the pseudonym Andrej Jawieri (see WLT 54:2, pp. 223-29 and 240-43), the play can be seen as a phenomenological exploration of love. Act one presents a couple at the proposal and wedding stage; act two shows another couple and their growing estrangement; in act three children of the couples in the preceding acts are overcoming their anxieties on the threshold of marriage. Wojtyla writes as someone who has experienced the onus of human existence. He is extremely sensitive to the joys and the miseries of relationships, including those between parents and children. Overall, the play is rather low-keyed in its impact. Love is never presented as a passionate outburst, nor are the messages overly didactic or moralizing. The play has metaphysical and even mythical dimensions. The first couple's attraction is manifested in terms of mysterious "signals." The Jeweler is presented as a sage, at times a magician, with insights into the future. Likewise Adam, the mysterious stranger in act two, prophesies, sees more deeply than others and ultimately - as the author's mouthpiece, no doubt - declares that love must be found "in the dimensions of God."
Wojtyla advocates a yearning for "the absolute Existence and Love," yet mediated by other people. As one of the numerous philosophizing lines informs us, "Love is a constant challenge, thrown to us by God." The religious premises and overtones of the play are hardly surprising. What astonishes and inspires one is Wojtyia's most profound understanding of human nature reflected in the play. The free-flowing blank verse of the original has been very capably rendered into English.
Regina Grol-Prokopczyk, Empire State College
World Literature Today, Vol. 55, No. 2, Spring 1981 p. 345
Karol Wojtyla. The Jewelers Shop. Boleslaw Taborski, tr. New York. Random House. 1980. xix + 75 pages. $7.95.