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Henrietta Lacks

10 December 2017
  ICE Kraków — Sala Teatralna

Directed by:

Anna Smolar


Anna Smolar


65 min.



Anna Smolar’s play, written in collaboration with the actors, tells the forgotten story of a woman who dramatically influenced the course of modern medicine. Henrietta Lacks, an African-American woman, died of cervical cancer in 1951 and the cells taken from her body are used to this day in a variety of tests and experiments. These immortal cells, hidden behind the cryptonym HeLa, were harvested from her body without her knowledge or the consent of her family members, essentially to benefit a painfully white medical and legislative system. Nobody paid attention to the rights of this granddaughter of black slaves from Virginia. But this historical play doesn’t allow us to forget the incident and its racist implications. An imagined meeting between Lacks and the scientists, which never actually happened, becomes a way to atone for the sins of Western civilization. But the play isn’t a simple gesture of giving a voice to the unheard or an exercise in identity politics. Instead, the audience watches a complex, multi-layered and humorous play that poses numerous troubling questions about the ethical dimension of experimenting on the human body.

Smolar and the actors who star in the project participated in workshops that enabled them to look at the story of the titular character from multiple points of view: artistic, oncological and scientific. The multi-dimensionality of the POV allows them to move fluidly amongst the conventions of bio-art, performance art, lecture and vaudeville. And a humorously staged scene from the Oprah Winfrey Show (Oprah actually appeared in a television biopic about Lacks) creates a framework to re-evaluate the past and exorcize modern medicine.


Partner of the play: Fundacja Onkocafe – Razem lepiej



Dramaturgy / directed by Anna Smolar
Text by Anna Smolar, Marta Malikowska, Maciej Pesta, Sonia Roszczuk, Jan Sobolewski
Costumes by Anna Met
Music and Musical Arrangement by Natalia Fiedorczuk-Cieślak
Assistant Director: Jan Jeliński



Marta Malikowska, Maciej Pesta, Sonia Roszczuk, Jan Sobolewski