Santa Monica’s City Garage and the L.A. Polish Consulate differ over new work.

Frédérique Michel and her husband, Charles Duncombe, are leaders of City Garage in Santa Monica. (Ringo H.W. Chiu / For The Times)
Frédérique Michel and her husband, Charles Duncombe, are leaders of City Garage in Santa Monica. (Ringo H.W. Chiu / For The Times)

By David Ng / LATimes.com

A new Holocaust-themed play by a Polish dramatist has become a source of friction between the Polish consulate in Los Angeles and the experimental Santa Monica theater company that is producing the unconventional stage piece.

City Garage in Santa Monica said the consulate withdrew support for the production because of the drama’s controversial content and fears about how officials in Poland’s new right-wing government might react.

The consulate has denied the accusations, saying that it never promised to support the production financially and that its lack of funding is caused by budgetary limitations, not the political situation in Poland.

“Right Left With Heels,” by Sebastian Majewski, is a surrealistic play that follows a pair of high-heel shoes that once belonged to Magda Goebbels, the wife of Nazi minister of propaganda Joseph Goebbels.

In the play, the shoes, made from the skin of Jewish victims at Auschwitz, are put on trial at Nuremberg. They later bear witness to major events of postwar Polish history.

City Garage is scheduled to open the play July 8 at its venue at Bergamot Station in Santa Monica. In recent weeks, the company corresponded by email with Ignacy Zarski, the Polish consulate’s cultural attaché, to discuss the possibility of supporting various aspects of the production.

“They promised their support,” said Charles Duncombe, producing director of City Garage. He said the pledge included supporting an opening-night reception as well as outreach and promotional activities.

Duncombe said that Zarski later met in person with him and his wife, company artistic director Frédérique Michel, following a performance earlier this year of City Garage’s “Othello/Desdemona.” He said Zarski explained that the consulate was backing out because of concerns about how the new government in Warsaw would react and because of the content of the play.

Zarski said in an email to The Times: “We are not withdrawing our financial support, [because] of never initially promising to support this particular production.” He added that the decision “has nothing to do with [the] political situation in Poland. It is merely the result of a limited budget,” and that the consulate is still considering using its email list and social media contacts to promote the event.

In October, Poland’s right-leaning Law and Justice party won the country’s parliamentary elections with a majority victory. The party is known for its conservative views on cultural and social issues, as well as its skeptical view of the European Union.

Majewski, the playwright, didn’t respond to a request for comment.

City Garage said that funding for “Right Left With Heels” is coming in part from a Polish couple in Southern California. “They responded when one of our contacts in Poland told them about the consulate pulling out,” Duncombe said.

The company also has launched a Kickstarter campaign. City Garage said it had applied some months ago to the city of Santa Monica for a grant but hasn’t heard the results of its application.

City Garage was founded in 1987 by Duncombe and Michel. It has won local awards for its productions, which often are avant-garde.

“In my job, I’m asking people for money all the time,” Duncombe said. “I’m used to being turned down. I would never have disrupted a relationship with a valued funding partner had it been simply that they just didn’t have enough available to help. Frédérique [and] I both saw this as an issue of artistic free expression.”


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