For the Polish-Jewish filmmaker Roman Polanski, instinct rules human life. “My films,” he once said, “are the expression of momentary desires.”
Now comes Romanian playwright Saviana Stanescu’s one-man play, “Polanski Polanski,” starring Grant Neale, which explores the director’s putative state of mind during his most heinous act, his 1977 rape of Samantha Geimer in Jack Nicholson’s house on Mulholland Drive. The play opened earlier this month in Long Island City, just prior to this week’s release of Geimer’s memoir, “The Girl: A Life in the Shadow of Roman Polanski.”
The first few decades of Polanski’s life were marked by harrowing near misses. Born in 1937 to Polish parents who were living in Paris, he moved with his family back to Poland shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War. His Catholic mother was deported to Auschwitz and killed; his Jewish father was sent to Mauthausen and survived the war. Polanski’s big breakthrough came after he moved to Los Angeles and made the horror film, “Rosemary’s Baby,” in 1968. A year later, his pregnant wife, movie star Sharon Tate, was brutally murdered, along with four of their friends, by the Manson Family.
Grief-stricken, Polanski continued making films; his masterpiece, “Chinatown,” was released in 1974. But his reputation was altered forever after he drugged, raped and sodomized Geimer, who was then just 13, while she was modeling for him. Just before he was sentenced, he fled to Paris, where he has lived ever since. (He risked arrest and extradition last week by traveling to Poland for a film festival.) He won an Oscar for Best Director in 2002 with the Holocaust film, “The Pianist.”
In an interview, Neale told The Jewish Week that he commissioned the play, which is directed by Tamilla Woodard, after viewing the 2008 documentary, “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired.” The play, which is based on trial transcripts and interviews, focuses on three turning points in Polanski’s life — the photo shoot, the flight from the United States and the brief period in 2009 in which Polanski was under house arrest in a Swiss chalet. “It makes the audience privy to the actions of his mind,” Neale said, “and feel complicit with him — at the same time as the wrongness of the act is laid perfectly bare.”
Neale, who is exactly 33 years Polanski’s junior (the two share the same birthday), sees something universal in Polanski’s story, in that, as he put it, “There’s a hair’s breadth between all of us and a really horrifying mistake that affects us the entire rest of our lives.”
“Polanski Polanski” runs through this weekend at the Chain Theater, 21-28 45 Road in Long Island City. Performances are Thursday through Saturday evenings at 8. For tickets, $18, call OvationTix at (866) 811-4111 or visit www.variationstheatregroup.com.