Life hasn't been easy for Janek Krupinski.
He is not an old man, and yet the harshness of his life as a writer in Poland and the difficulties he and his wife, Anka, have experienced since immigrating to America have aged him - even grizzled him a bit. Youthful hopefulness has long since faded, having been replaced by a cynical - and slightly paranoid - view of life as it is.
Standing in his kitchen (OK - the portion of his one-room apartment that is used for cooking and eating) in his dilapidated apartment in Manhattan's Lower East Side, he is a study in irony. He is a proud man even though he is dressed in mismatched pajamas. He is a man of courage and conviction even though he is afraid to pick up his phone. He is energetic even though he can't sleep. And he is a man defeated even though he still has his dreams.
Ah, yes - his dreams. That's what "Hunting Cockroaches," Polish playwright Janusz Glowacki's moody play that is currently being produced by the Salt Lake Acting Company, is all about. With a surrealistic tone and an almost "stream of consciousness" style, it follows the thoughts of a man who is finding the Great American Dream to be more of a nightmare.
Glowacki's play is a lively mix of comedy and pathos. It is sometimes difficult to follow as it bounces back and forth between reality and a sort of heightened reality. And its profound commentaries are sometimes lost because they pass so quickly, as when Janek talks about the cockroaches on the floor - Glowacki's metaphor for Janek's immigrant lifestyle.
But "Hunting Cockroaches" effectively delivers its message, thanks largely to rich, handsome characterizations by Alan Nevins as Janek and Nancy Borgenicht as Anka. It is clear these two gifted actors have gone to great lengths to get inside the heads of the characters they play. Handcrafted artistry is evident throughout, from the precision of their authentic Polish accents to the subtle nuances in their movements. These are wonderfully textured performances, as memorable as any we've seen recently.
Especially interesting is the unusual relationship these two people seem to have with each other. You can see it in their eyes and feel it in their voices. It is harsh. It is tender. It is full of love - and apathetic resignation. It is so deliciously human and palpable that one is tempted to consider it a third member of the Krupinski family - and perhaps the show's real hero.
More tangible characters are presented by Michael McGlone and Jean Roberts, who enter from time to time in a variety of different roles - immigration officer, censor, secret police officer, bum. Both are effective in each appearance, with McGlone especially so. Clearly he is becoming one of the best character actors in the area.
Director Valerie Kittel is to be credited with keeping the play's focus sharp despite its inherent presentational obscurity. Her interpretation seems intent on preventing the show from becoming too depressing - a good decision, as the show's humor enhances its bitterness by providing contrast. Her staging is simple and effective and her pacing is just right. The show moves along briskly without wallowing in wretched self-pity.
Kittel's staff - including set designer Cory Dangerfield, costumer Amy Roberts and lighting designer Megan McCormick - all perform admirably in their respective skills. Dangerfield's set is particularly evocative, recreating an apartment so run down and oppressive that it is able to establish the entire mood of the piece almost single-handedly.
Although "Hunting Cockroaches" isn't going to suit every taste (there is some salty language and some harsh emotionalism), it is without doubt an artistic achievement of the first order for SLAC and a thoughtful addition to Salt Lake City's theatrical landscape.