You've had them sleepless nights where it seems everything you ever did wrong marches through your mind, like ragged, frozen French soldiers passing Napolean on their way back from defeat in Russia.
That happens to the lead character in Tadeusz Rozewicz's play "The Card Index.'' His bedroom becomes a thoroughfare where the characters of his life march in and out, reminding him of the responsibility he bears for his fate.
"The play is about a man examining his life,'' said Linda Nadolny Smith, who is directing "The Card Index'' for the Kansas University Theatre. "People come and go through his bedroom, and they provide him the opportunity to examine things in his life. He takes a look at the choices he made and all the things that made him who he is.''
"THE CARD Index,'' whose title can also be translated as "The Dossier,'' opens Wednesday night at the Inge Theatre in Murphy Hall.
Rozewicz, a Polish poet and playwright, wrote the play in 1960. Before he turned to the stage, he fought with the resistance against the Nazis in Poland in World War II, just as Samuel Beckett and Jean Paul Sartre fought against the Nazis in France. After the war, like Beckett and Sartre, Rozewicz began to question what art was in the light of the Holocaust, which decimated Poland. As a result, he began to write poetry exploring the human condition.
"He had to come to terms with being a poet at that time,'' Smith said in a recent interview. "He literally had to begin a new kind of poetry, and he influenced a lot of young poets at the time.''
BUT UNLIKE some Polish writers who were driven into exile by the Communists, Smith stayed in Poland and lives there to this day. Smith said his decision to stay affected his credibility among dissidents.
"He was never a member of the Communist Party, so he never was very close to the government,'' she said. "But others thought he should be more outspoken against communism. I think people critized him without just cause.''
Like other Polish writers such as Slawomir Mrozek, Rozewicz wrote plays in the style of the Theater of the Absurd his characters face ridiculous situations set in dream-like environments. Martin Esslin, who coined the phrase "Theater of the Absurd,'' included this play in his landmark book on the subject, Smith said.
ALTHOUGH THE play concentrates on the personal tragedy of the hero, the script has political implications. For one thing, it demands that society not forget the inhumane actions it inflicts on others. Society must stand accountable for its actions, even a society dominated by Stalinist leaders.
"I think you can understand the play without a course in Polish history,'' Smith said. "I think this play says important things that need to be said. I think he that when you read the play you can find similar, frightening parallels to things that happen in the script, things in history and things going on now. It's appropriate because if people forget their history, forget their past and their actions, they're condemned to repeat them.''
ADAM CZERNIAWSKI translated the script into English in the 1960s. Smith took his version and added additional material that Rozewicz restored to the script when Polish censorship eased. She said the Slavic languages and literature department at KU as well as Robert Findlay, KU professor of theater and film, helped her translate these passages for the production.
Many members of the 13-person cast play multiple roles, Smith said.
"In casting, I was looking for versatility,'' she said. "I wanted people who could play different characters. Then I had to assign roles according to entrances and exits. You couldn't play one character that entered right after your other character exited.''
SMITH, A doctoral student in theater and film, was born in New Jersey and taught theater in Ohio for several years. She came across the play while she was studying Polish history and drama; her work in this area bolstered her knowledge of her own Polish heritage. In conversation, she marvels at the struggle Poland underwent to maintain its culture during the past 300 years and the role theater played in preserving Polish culture.
"People don't realize that for 150 years Poland did not exist,'' she said. "It's not in the history books I read. People don't know what this country went through. But despite that they kept their culture and their language, in part thanks to theater. The Polish language was banned in the schools but for some reason not on the stage.''
"The Card Index" will be performed at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and next Sunday at the Inge Theatre in Murphy Hall, with an 8:30 p.m. performance on Friday. Tickets are available at the Murphy Hall Box Office.