Poster for "Cain", 1959; author: Jerzy Skarżyński

a grotesque or mystery play based on the drama by George Gordon Byron (1821); the performance by the Theatre of 13 Rows directed by Jerzy Grotowski (premiere 30 January 1960) was the first time the drama had been staged in Poland.

Translation: Jerzy Paszkowski. Script and direction: Jerzy Grotowski. Set design: Lidia Minticz and Jerzy Skarżyński. Director’s assistant: Stanisław Szreniawski. Music consultation: Jerzy Kaszycki. Cast: Zygmunt Molik (Alpha and Omega), Tadeusz Bartkowiak (Cain), Stanisław Szreniawski or Andrzej Bielski (Abel), Adam Kurczyna (Lamb and Enoch), Antoni Jahołkowski (Adam), Rena Mirecka (Eve), Barbara Barska (Ada).

As is the case with the philosophy of play, this drama is founded on a confrontation of one of the fundamental myths of Western culture which the author presents in the form of an epic dramatic poem filled with mockery, parody and even cabaret-style horseplay. The text underwent significant shortening, while the truncated scenes from the drama are set in an aesthetic totally different to the romantic conventions of the time of writing, with the historical traces of the original also removed. The costumes and props were designed by the renowned Kraków set designers Lidia Minticz and Jerzy Skarżyński. In organising the stage space, Grotowski employed a significant division into three parts: on the left (looking from the auditorium) there was a surrealistic construction comprising three monstrous eggs on top of each other, with the lowest one decorated with an Egyptian cross, while the top egg was inscribed with the Greek letter alpha and two legs protruded from it. The middle egg was smaller, positioned on its side and was open, while inside a ‘naturalistic’ sculpture of a fish could be seen. A naked male mannequin occupied the right side of the stage with boards positioned over its torso and face; one of the boards featured the Greek letter omega and Einstein’s famous equation. The largest space, in the centre, was filled with an egg-shaped mansion, something like an oval chapel covered with drawings. At particular points in the performance, these constructions were covered by various boards depicting, for example, the Earth and a map of the sky. Smaller boards with various graphs and drawings were hung at the side of the space and along the auditorium. The division of space reflected the order of tensions maintained throughout the performance with the events on stage taking place between two opposing poles – Alpha and Omega. These names replaced the original names of the protagonists Angel of the Lord and Lucifer, and instead introduced a reference to the Book of Revelation (‘I am the Alpha and the Omega’) which signalled the abolition of apparent oppositions. This was further underscored by the final scenes of the performance where it turns out that Alpha is played by the actor who was earlier playing Omega (Zygmunt Molik). This abolition embraced the whole world of the performance – all the protagonists (together with those who had been killed earlier) danced to rock and roll in the finale wearing identical Alpha-Omega masks, and it was further stressed in a consciously simple and ironic manner by a pseudo-futurist text presented in the final scene.

The history of Cain, the central subject of the dramatic text, was subject to a true extravaganza of directorial ideas which were then raised to the higher power of a philosophical cabaret, first outlined in Orpheus. The biblical scenes, particularly those connected to the ‘family life’ of Adam and Eve as well as Cain and Ada, were played out as a quite simply insolent parody. The original parents wore caricatured and decidedly comical costumes – Adam was dressed in a striped leotard and matching socks, with a fig leaf attached to his front and a bowl to his rear; Eve wore a flesh-coloured leotard and black tights with red garters. Like Adam, she wore a fig leaf on her abdomen, but also held in her hand a pair of breasts on a wire. The other protagonists from ‘paradise’ also worse similar cabaret-style costumes. Only Cain stood out, since he had no mask (the other characters wore grotesque half-masks), although his face was painted to resemble a clown; he wore a blazer and brown trousers.

The series of scenes from Byron’s heavily cut dramatic poem was broken into specific ‘turns’ or ‘acts’, thus creating a certain ‘montage of attractions’. The performance opens with a parody of sacrifice in which a new character created by Grotowski, the Lamb, is killed to the rhythm of a cabaret song. This parody bordered on blasphemy when the dead Lamb rose upon hearing a booming voice call ‘Baranek! Niech wyjdzie!’ (‘Lamb! Come on out!’). Following this came the first part of what were know as the ‘Dances of Paradise’, in which Adam and Eve sang a rhyming verse about temptations in paradise, signalling unequivocally at the sexual nature of the knowledge they acquired through sin. Unbeknownst to them, Cain appeared on stage expressing a caricatured operatic rebellion against the joyous stupidity of a philistine life, with this rebellion stoked by Omega who entered the stage from the audience bearing a guitar. The battle between Omega and Ada over Cain, which had initially taken the form of a dramatic confrontation, turned into a tennis match played out by the actors using real rackets. Omega loses but Cain still chose to embark on a journey with him. Adam and Eve then reappear on stage with further ‘Dances of Paradise’, following which Cain and Omega wander among the audience talking to each other as if mediated by the spectators. During their dispute, the stage decorations are changed with the central ‘mansion’ now covered by a painting depicting a cosmic landscape. Wandering through this landscape (during a scene, highly praised by reviewers, based on rhythmic movements and instrumentation of voices), both protagonists reach the gates of hell. Omega explained the laws of the world to Cain before this sequence culminated in a dispute over the responsibility of Alpha and Omega. The argument was played out as a kind of fencing bout using streaks of light emanating from spotlights held by the actors (this was Lidia Minticz’s idea). Cain loses the battle, with the following ‘family idyll’ scene causing audiences to cry with laughter through its depiction of the overgrown toddler Enoch, whose giant pink romper suits evoked thunderous laughter from spectators who then woke the ‘child’. Cain and Abel’s battle took the form of a boxing match, while the murder of Abel appeared as a caricatured repetition of the initial sacrifice of the Lamb and also as a parodistic reversal of the biblical prefiguration. Following this, the third ‘Dances of Paradise’ took place, followed by the rock and roll finale. Cain’s final words, in which he asked dramatically ‘Co ze mną?’ (‘What shall come of me?’), generate a certain dissonance in the face of the joyous noise of the finale. No answer is forthcoming to his question. As the members of the group came to admit in years to come, the fireworks of the ideas for the staging, generally praised by reviewers, came from the performers’ lack of experience and skill. Unable to draw on experience and skill, Grotowski reached for methods and tricks taken from the early twentieth-century avant-garde theatre, as well as those that stemmed from some of the actors’ earlier experiences of revue and cabaret theatre (such tendencies were demonstrated primarily by Antoni Jahołkowski). Grotowski used them to give a clear stage form to the problems, questions and beliefs that were both then and for many years to come most central to him. Impartial reviewers observing his activities admitted that despite the unevenness and illustrative character of part of the ideas used in the Theatre of 13 Rows’ second performance, it was nonetheless a confirmation of the potential evident in the debut production. Cain was also a further step towards ‘philosophising in the context of clowning around’, which was a neat description of the direction that Grotowski’s work was taking during the first seasons of working with his own company. The performance of Cain was well-regarded and even quite popular. It was shown a total of 55 times, including twenty guest performances at theatres in Katowice (28 February 1960), Kraków (1–4 March 1960) and Warsaw (1–10 April 1960), among others.


Compiled by Monika Blige and Karolina Sołtys
In Polish


A[ndrzej] W[róblewski]: Udana próba zbliżenia, „Teatr” 1960 nr 6.

AWR [Andrzej Wróblewski]: Reflektorem po scenach, „Przegląd Kulturalny” 1960 nr 10, z 3 marca, s. 9.

Biblijna tragigroteska w Teatrze 13 Rzędów, „Trybuna Opolska” 1960 nr 24, z 29 stycznia, s. 4.

eb., „Teatr 13 Rzędów” przyjechał do Warszawy, „Kurier Polski” 1960 nr 77.

e.c. [Edward Csató]: Ceterum censeo, „Teatr” 1960 nr 11, z 1–15 czerwca, s. 8.

Eberhardt Konrad: Rzecz o niemocy teatru, „Ekran” 1960 nr 19, z 8 maja, s. 6, 11.

Falkowski Jerzy: Biblijny kabaret z udziałem Byrona, „Współczesność” 1960 nr 5, z 1–15 marca, s. 9. Przedruk [w:] Misterium zgrozy i urzeczenia. Przedstawienia Jerzego Grotowskiego i Teatru Laboratorium, pod redakcją Janusza Deglera i Grzegorza Ziółkowskiego, Instytut im. Jerzego Grotowskiego, Wrocław 2006, s. 113–116.

Flaszen Ludwik: „Kain” – informacja, „Materiały – Dyskusje” 1960 nr 2 (styczeń), Teatr 13 Rzędów, Opole. Przedruki [w:] Ludwik Flaszen: Teatr skazany na magię, przedmowa, wybór, opracowanie Henryk Chłystowski, Wydawnictwo Literackie, Kraków – Wrocław 1983, s. 266–269; [w:] Misterium zgrozy i urzeczenia. Przedstawienia Jerzego Grotowskiego i Teatru Laboratorium, pod redakcją Janusza Deglera i Grzegorza Ziółkowskiego, Instytut im. Jerzego Grotowskiego, Wrocław 2006, s. 33–35; [w:] Ludwik Flaszen: Grotowski & Company. Źródła i wariacje, wstęp Eugenio Barba, Instytut im. Jerzego Grotowskiego, Wrocław 2014, s. 42–44.

Flaszen Ludwik, Grotowski Jerzy: Przyszły sezon w 13 Rzędach, „Trybuna Opolska” 1960 nr 142, z 16 czerwca, s. 3. Przedruk [w:] Jerzy Grotowski: Teksty zebrane, redakcja Agata Adamiecka-Sitek, Mario Biagini, Dariusz Kosiński, Carla Pollastrelli, Thomas Richards, Igor Stokfiszewski, Instytut im. Jerzego Grotowskiego, Instytut Teatralny im. Zbigniewa Raszewskiego, Wydawnictwo Krytyki Politycznej, Wrocław – Warszawa 2012, s. 169–171.

Jasińska Zofia: Młodzi szukają, „Więź” 1960 nr 5, s. 149–153. Przedruk [w:] „Performer” 2016 nr 11–12.

Jaszcz [Jan Alfred Szczepański]: Byron nabity we Flaszena, „Trybuna Ludu” 1960 nr 94, z 3 kwietnia, s. 6.

Jaszcz [Jan Alfred Szczepański]: Jak urabiać opinię, „Trybuna Ludu” 1960 nr 88.

Jaszcz [Jan Alfred Szczepański]: Pierwszy kot – za płot. Ale…, „Trybuna Ludu” 1960 nr 97, z 6 kwietnia, s. 8.

„Kain”, czyli jak zabić autora, stenogram dyskusji z udziałem: Ludwika Flaszena, Konstantego Puzyny, Andrzeja Stawara, Adama Tarna i Krzysztofa Teodora Toeplitza, „Dialog” 1960 nr 6, s. 138–145.

Korczak Jerzy: W błocie…, „Głos Wielkopolski” 1960 nr 31, z 6 lutego, s. 3.

Kudliński Tadeusz: Świat se tańcuje, „Dziennik Polski” 1960 nr 61, z 12 marca, s. 4.

Kos[ińska] M[aria]: Teatr „13 Rzędów”, „Życie Warszawy” 1960 nr 87.

Lubecki Władysław: Eksperymentalny „Kain”, „Trybuna Opolska” 1960 nr 30, z 5 lutego, s. 3.

Między groteską a powagą, z Jerzym Grotowskim rozmawia Wanda Chila, „Głos Wielkopolski” 1960 nr 20, z 24–25 stycznia, s. 4. Przedruk [w:] Jerzy Grotowski: Teksty zebrane, redakcja Agata Adamiecka-Sitek, Mario Biagini, Dariusz Kosiński, Carla Pollastrelli, Thomas Richards, Igor Stokfiszewski, Instytut im. Jerzego Grotowskiego, Instytut Teatralny im. Zbigniewa Raszewskiego, Wydawnictwo Krytyki Politycznej, Wrocław – Warszawa 2012, s. 166–168.

Minkowski Aleksander: O! pole, „Świat” 1960 nr 10.

Sinko Grzegorz: Martwy Byron i żywy Grotowski, „Nowa Kultura” 1960 nr 11, z 13 marca, s. 8. Przedruk [w:] Misterium zgrozy i urzeczenia. Przedstawienia Jerzego Grotowskiego i Teatru Laboratorium, pod redakcją Janusza Deglera i Grzegorza Ziółkowskiego, Instytut im. Jerzego Grotowskiego, Wrocław 2006, s. 117–120.

Es[manowski] Stefan: Margines teatralny, „Tygodnik Zachodni” 1960 nr 12.

Ryszard [Zbyszko Bednorz]: Byron „zlaicyzowany”, „Tygodnik Powszechny” 1960 nr 11, z 13 marca, s. 6.

Treugutt Stefan: Eksperymentaliści z Opola, „Przegląd Kulturalny” 1960 nr 18, z 28 kwietnia, s. 9.

W[róblewski] A[ndrzej]: Udana próba zbliżenia, „Teatr” 1960 nr 6, z 15–31 marca, s. 23.

Zagórski Jerzy: Między heroizmem a zuchwałością, „Kurier Polski” 1960 nr 84, z 8 kwietnia, s. 4.

Zastępca [Bożena Zagórska]: Lord Byron w ludowym Opolu, „Echo Krakowa” 1960 nr 32, z 9 lutego, s. 3.



Bąk Bogdan: Byron, Grotowski i Spółka, „Odra” 1961 nr 7, z 21 lutego, s. 8.



Osiński Zbigniew: „Kain” według Byrona, [w:] Tadeusz Burzyński, Zbigniew Osiński, Laboratorium Grotowskiego, Wydawnictwo Interpress, Warszawa 1978, s. 15–16. 


Osiński Zbigniew: Grotowski i jego Laboratorium, Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, Warszawa 1980, s. 67–72. 


Wójtowicz Agnieszka: „Tekst nuży, jeśli nas nie obchodzą jego idee”, „Kwartalnik Opolski” 2004 nr 4, s. 63–79. Przedruk [w:] Agnieszka Wójtowicz: Od „Orfeusza” do „Studium o Hamlecie”. Teatr 13 Rzędów w Opolu (1959–1964), Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Wrocławskiego, Wrocław 2004, s. 27–42.