Here is your guide to the performance options in November 2017.
Entries are arranged by theater or venue.
This former cinema retains its classy, nostalgic interior, and there is a splendid buffet with tasty cakes, coffee, and drinks. Still, expect steeper than usual prices (for the tickets, too). The stage was never remodeled. We are gazing at where the movie screen used to be, so the sight-lines are a little wonky. Clever directors are able to work around this, though.
Edward II - Marlowe’s classic drama about the martyred gay king receives a splendid production thanks to director Róbert Alföldi and great performances by Ernő Fekete (of the Katona József Company, here playing the title role) and Márton Patkós (as his young lover). A thoughtful consideration of sexuality and politics. Highly recommended! November 18, 19
Parasztopera [Peasant Opera] - Béla Pintér’s classic theatrical confection blends folk dancing and music with baroque recitatives to serve up an opera plot set in the isolated Hungarian countryside complete with murder, infidelity, and incest. It all culminates with a fateful retribution which inspires both pity and fear. With this production, Pintér perfected the comic dissonance of characters singing Hungaricums like “The chief railway officer is drunk as a pig!” or improbabilities like “I was attending a Lutheran conference in Minnesota” to classical-sounding airs. The show is imaginative and brilliant. A must-see! November 30
Tündöklő középszer [Dazzling Mediocre] - An altogether lighter offering by Béla Pintér, this exercise in self-parody focuses on the petty internal conflicts of an independent theatre company in Budapest, but there is plenty of heart-wrenching humor to be found. Pay attention to the play-within-a-play written by the dim-witted impresario Géza. It could be the great absurd drama the actual author has yet to write. Recommended for confirmed Pintérites. November 29
Budapest Operetta Theatre
A chicagói hercengő [Duchess of Chicago] - This “lost” operetta by titan Imre Kálmán is a delightful piece of light entertainment with a paper-thin plot, catchy tunes, and lots of eye-catching costumes. The producers turn the romantic tale into a fable about cultural assimilation, complete with a happy ending. Perfect for a family outing or a treat for older relatives. November 27, 28
A Csárdaskirálynő [Queen of the Csardás] - This undisputed classic by operetta king Imre Kálmán features some of his best music, but by all means, skip this lackluster production by very veteran director Miklós Szinetár. The art design is tasteless, and the mise en scène is hopelessly cluttered. A grim slideshow during the overture attempts to inject some of the fatalism of Mohácsi’s classic 1993 production in Kaposvár, but the result is toothless. November 18, 19
The Erkel is the main venue for the Hungarian State Opera’s performances now that the traditional opera house is under reconstruction. You can find it in the recently renamed Pope John-Paul II Square (II.János Pál papa tér) or turn onto Luther Street from Rákóczi Avenue.
Hugenották [Les Hugenots] - This French grand opera does not pick up speed until the second half of the third act, but then it is a highly engaging account of how blind intolerance among Catholics and Protestants led to the Saint Bartholomew’s Massacre of 1572. Although Kinga Kriszta is a fine ingénue, try to see it with the A-cast, which is stronger overall. November 5, 9, 10
For complete review, click here.
Parázsfuvolácska - This children’s (!) rendition of Mozart’s Magic Flute is absolutely, mind-bendingly unbelievable. At half the length of the original, it is every bit as incomprehensible, but the outrageous costumes and seemingly adult content will have you doubting your sense of reality. Take a child if you must, or take a substance and occupy the very back row. Once-in-a-lifetime experience! November 11, 12, 19
József Attila Színház
Sóska, sültkrumpli [Sorrel with Chips] - This particular performance ran for around a decade at the now defunct Budapest Studio Theatre before migrating to the József Attila Színház venue. Its central concept, a play about a soccer match seen through the eyes of the referees, is quite clever. The result is a light and amusing show, and though it may seem a bit routine, Zoltán Karácsonyi and Károly Nemcsák embody their characters as easily as well-worn jerseys. (studio space) November 5
A csemegepultos naplója [Deli Counter Diaries] - The novel by Márton Gerlóczy receives a sterling stage adaptation courtesy of dramaturge Ildikó Lőkös, razor-sharp direction by Pál Göttinger, and a spirited performance by András Ötvös. At 80 minutes, it does not strain one’s patience, and even if you don’t understand much of the text, Mr. Ötvös’s presence is riveting. November 4, 17
A Pitbull Cselekedetei [Acts of the Pit Bull] - The play itself by Péter Kárpáti is something of a metaphysical adventure, which begins with a modest Budapest couple’s moral dilemma, then breaks the fourth wall, before bending the laws of time and space. The production is remarkable for its top-notch cast, including Angela Stefanovics, Zola Szabó, Natasa Stork, Zsuzsa Lőrincz, and the appropriately superhuman Zsolt Nagy. November 22
Egyasszony [One Woman] - It is difficult to recommend monodramas, since understanding the language is so crucial to comprehension. Nevertheless, this could well be the best monodrama now in Budapest. Réka Tenki gives a touchingly direct performance as the clueless young mother of an autistic child, dealing with the hideous pressures heaped upon her in addition to a bad marriage, before she decides to take control of her own life. Through the magic of theatre, she becomes a woman before our very eyes. November 10, 24
Degeneráció [D-Generation] This simple, yet disarming slice-of-life comedy concerns the social and romantic lives of a bunch of partying college students in Budapest. Devoid of deep meaning, it still manages to be light years better than the prime-time television show Ejjel Nappal Budapest. It also carries the subversive message that sometimes lack of communication saves relationships. November 9, 23
Klotild néni [Aunt Klotild] - Gábor Vaszary’s three-act farce is a classic example of cabaret theatre, but by English standards, it qualifies as an old chestnut. For this musty humor to appeal to you, you must have a decidedly old-fashioned funny bone. November 3, 30
Katona József Színház
A bajnok [The Champion] - Whether or not you are aware of the sex scandal upon which it was based, this Béla Pintér work is a fascinating and effective adaptation of Puccini’s one-act opera Il tabarro, with the political elite of a small Hungarian town standing in for the dock workers of the original. A daring and mostly stellar cast sings its way through the updated libretto about politics, sexuality, and parental responsibility. November 25, 26, 29
A két Korea újraeyesítése [Reunion of the Two Koreas] - This love-it-or-loathe-it offering from the celebrated Katona József Theatre showcases its excellent company of actors in Joël Pommerat’s roughly 20 unrelated and underdeveloped scenes about rotten relationships. Some consider it a triumph of good acting over poor material. In my opinion, however, the vomitous script cannot be redeemed. November 7, 19
Minden jó ha vége jó [All’s Well That Ends Well] - Gábor Zsambéki’s direction drops this problematic comedy by Shakespeare into a circus milieu, but that does little to illuminate the complex human relationships on display. Bertram, Helena, Parolles, and Diana, instead of being intriguing personalities, emerge as merely dull. László Szacsvay gives a good show as the French King, but that alone cannot save the production. November 2
Portugál - On his way to Portugal, soul-seeking Bence shows up in the no-where Hungarian village of Irgács and turns the status quo upside down. Zoltán Egressy’s now classic play has spawned a 1999 film, and this production itself has run since 1998. It features legendary performances by Imre Csuja, Ági Szirtes, and Zoltán Varga, although Tamás Keresztes and Réka Pelsőczy seem rather mature to be playing the romantic leads. November 20
Elnöknők [Leading Ladies] - This absurd piece by Werner Schwab premiered in 1996 and survives to this day thanks to sublimely grotesque performances by Judit Pogány, Ági Szirtes, and Eszter Csakányi. The piece itself, however, is little more than an ad hoc collection of shocking bits and set pieces. (studio space) November 29
Bihari - This biographical drama about an intellectual blackmailed into becoming a spy under the Communist regime on account of his homosexuality is not well executed. There are too many pointless conversations and go-nowhere scenes. Despite a committed cast, it is difficult to understand the exact repercussions of the anti-hero’s actions. By the end, he is reduced to a quivering mass of self-loathing. “I’m a shit,” he says. Agreed. (basement space) November 25, 26
Szólók [Solos] - Living up to the title of their production, the Hodworks company delivers a series of dance and performance solos – not without flashes of humor, most memorably supplied by Csaba Molnár. The audience sits in a single row surrounding the space on four sides. If you do not like to be drawn into the action, be aware that dancer Marcio Canabarro makes direct contact with three or four random audience members during the show. November 10, 30
Grace - My favorite performance by the Hodworks dance company, Grace is a seemingly random series of dance numbers and sketches (some delivered in English). Never boring, often puzzling, and frequently provocative. Be prepared for sexual content and plenty of glitter. November 11
Nemzeti Színház [National Theatre]
Csíksomlyói passió [Passion of Christ from Csíksomlyó] - The 18th-century Hungarian re-interpretation of the Biblical story seems made for the National, but then there is a confusing clash of styles. Director Attila Vidnyánszky erects an alternate seating area to bring the spectators closer to the action. A live ensemble transports us to a small village square where the Passion of Christ will be performed. Then, the loud canned music and bombastic special effects begin, together with repetitive stage gestures that make it seem like a three-hour movie trailer. Nándor Berettyán brings a peculiar cluelessness to the role of the Messiah, as though the other villagers pushed him onto the scene as a last-minute substitute. Meanwhile, narrator and raconteur András Berecz strives mightily to bridge the gap between the professional actors and the folk dancers who embody the villagers and the vox populi, but this is a production divided against itself. November 23, 24
Éden földön [Eden on Earth] - The legend of Istók Hany is Hungary’s answer to L’enfant sauvage. Supposedly, the boy, who had grown up in the wild, was found by fisherman and brought to the royal court in 1749. Eventually, though, he fled back into the wilderness. In this dramatization, he simply finds the civilized world, with its superficial manners and pedantic ways, too baffling. The nearly two-hour running time is filled out with stunning costumes (especially in the wilderness scenes), dancing, and catchy, simplistic tunes courtesy of Tamás Szarka (front-man of the popular group Ghymes).The show is perfect for children, but liable to irritate adults with its lack of content. November 26
Szentivánéji álom [Midsummer Night’s Dream] - This reimagining of Shakespeare’s comedy may have you scratching your head. The first shock is the master-slave relationship between Theseus and Hippolyta (played by Lajos Otto Horváth and Eszter Nagy-Kálózy). Their relationship is inverted, somewhat, when he, doubling as the lowly Bottom transformed into an ass (as in donkey), copulates with her bewitched fairy queen Titania. Meanwhile, the stage machinery moves constantly, the insistent soundtrack blares, and puzzling set pieces appear onstage. What is a piano doing in the forest? Most odd of all is the depressing conclusion where everyone appears to be miserable. Credit goes to Kamilla Fátyol for her enchanting turn as Hermia. Novemebr 29, 30
Shakespeare Összes Rövidítve [The Complete Works of Shakespeare] - This crowd-pleaser premiered in New York around 2000, then turned up in Budapest shortly afterwards. It has been packing audiences in for some 15 years now thanks to the contagious antics of the three-member Madhouse troupe, delivering a delightful, and ultimately respectful, romp through classic literature. In English! (workshop space) November 17, 18
Örkény István Theatre
Henrik I-II. [Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2] - An intelligent précis of this problematic and sprawling history play by Shakespeare. No one turns out to be a hero, and with the actors constantly doubling, it sometimes seems as if the lower class is masquerading as the nobles (or vice versa). It is best to go in knowing the play, since the staging is quite minimal. November 8, 19, 26
For complete review, click here.
Anyám tyúkja (1.) [Mother’s Hen, Part 1] - Not recommended for beginning language students, but if you are studying Hungarian poetry, there is no better introduction than the Örkény actors’ interpretations of these compulsory poems, staged as though delivered by serious and passionate Communist-era schoolteachers who gather outside a traditional peasant house. It is especially moving for those who grew up with these poems, who feel as if they are hearing them for the first time. As in several other Örkény productions, the incidental music provided by Árpád Kákonyi is icing on the cake. November 2, 9
Anyám tyúkja (2.) [Mother’s Hen, Part 2] - With the second installment of their poetry program, director Pál Mácsai broadens the net, selecting a wider range of poems that are lesser known and cover more adult themes. The journey is deeper, but thematically arranged as the poems deal with questions of identity, existence, family life, and even sexuality. Nearly all the performers, seasoned veterans and talented newcomers alike, have a shining moment. November 10, 24
Apátlanok [Fatherless Ones] - This contemporary play by Csaba Mikó is brought to life through brilliant performances and stage wizardry, with a “working” home environment projected, outlined, and colored on two-dimensional flats. I imagine a vast number of spectators, Hungarian and otherwise, can identify with the theme: the dysfunctions of a group of siblings who grow up with a father who is largely absent from their lives. Still, it is less of a play than a prose piece placed onstage, which makes it difficult for non-natives to follow. November 3
A Bernhardi ügy [The Bernhard Case] - Director Tamás Ascher wisely sets this classic Schnitzler play in a modern-day hospital in Budapest, demonstrating how anti-Semitic incidents are absolutely conceivable nowadays, too. When head doctor Bernhard (Pál Mácsai) bars a priest (Zsolt Nagy) from delivering last rights to a dying young Catholic girl, the resulting scandal sparks a hospital mutiny, even resulting in the doctor’s temporary incarceration. The atmosphere is very stark and white, sterile, as though this case were on the dissection table. The treatment is intelligent, but rather cold and objective. In a late encounter between the priest and the doctor, it is unclear what the priest really wants from Bernhard. Does he want him to see him suffer, apologize, or merely treat him with respect? November 14, 29
Hamlet - Traditionalists beware! The immortal play is treated very irreverently here, more like a comedy with some raucous (though agonized) clowning by Csaba Polgár in the lead role. The central concept of staging the play in a football stadium, with soccer hooligans standing in for the common rabble, works well, revealing clearly what director László Bagossy wishes to convey with this play. Politics is a sideshow. Entertain us. November 13, 27
Három nővér [Three Sisters] - Chekhov’s most produced play in the English-speaking world receives the Örkény treatment – with suggestive costumes, a stripped-down and rotating set, and low-key delivery from the actors. The results are surprising – less of a family drama than a tonal poem about death and the ephemeral nature of life. The cast is strong overall, but particularly memorable were Nóra Diána Takács (as Olga) and Réka Tenki (as Masha). November 18, 28
József és a testvérei [Joseph and his Brothers] - Dramaturge Ildikó Gáspár and director Tamás Ascher go in search of the Great Narrative, staging Thomas Mann’s 1,500-pages novel, which covers Chapters 27-50 of Genesis. With slightly less than 20 actors playing the numerous roles, you will find yourself consulting the family tree in program again and again during the nearly five-hour running time. Given the bare-bones set, we get the impression of a lengthy, low-budget Sunday school pageant with too few, albeit uncommonly talented, performers.
For complete review, click here.
Macskajáték [Cat’s Game] - For her staging of Örkény István’s popular play, Ildikó Gáspár goes back to the original novel. This love triangle among 60-somethings, charting the decline in the fortunes of two sisters from a well-to-family, is well told. The Kádár-era milieu is captured with impeccably chosen costumes and props, and Éva Kerekes is a revelation as the mousey neighbor Egerke. That said, the staging can be static, and the lengthy monologues in the second half are not easy to follow without some knowledge of Hungarian. November 20
Tótek [The Tóth Family] - This adaptation of Örkény’s novel is far different from the classic play adaptation. The producers seem determined to show us all the material that we would have missed if we only watched the play. This means Modern Direction 101, with plenty of face-forward and direct address to the audience. Despite the innovative staging, the result is singularly un-dramatic. Highpoints are provided by the World War Two-era songs that punctuate the storyline. Still, we might as well read the novel at home, or watch the movie Isten hozta, őrnagy úr with Zoltán Latinovics. November 7, 30
Diggerdrájver [Digger Driver] - Pulled from an actual blog, the modern-day experiences of a blue-collar worker who leaves Hungary with his second wife and son for the promise of a better life in London could not be more topical. The nearly two hours of material is delivered in a monologue with disarming credibility by the talented actor Attila Epres. Foreigners may be puzzled, though, by the morose mood at the end. From our point of view, this is a success story. What is there to cry about? (studio space) November 3, 17, 27
Emlékezés a régi szép időkre [Recollection of the Good Old Days] - This monologue based on the memoirs of István Eörsi provides humorous insight into life under Communism, both before and after the Revolution of 1956. Yet, despite István Znamenák’s ingratiating performance, the monodrama is unsuccessful. It is mere storytelling with absolutely no tension or conflict. (studio space) November 18, 20
Mikve - Stick around for the second-half of this contemporary Israeli play about a traditional bath facility for pious Jewish women. You may expect it to be a typical women’s drama with everyone’s secrets revealed and everyone crying on each other’s shoulders by the end, but the drama takes a much more radical turn as the community of women from the mikve band together to defy society. It boasts a fine ensemble cast with great performances all around. Barbara Hegyi, in particular, shows uncommon fire in the role of an abused wife. November 9
Toldi - This production must be a godsend for Hungarian students, who are required to read János Arany’s epic heroic poem. Here Gábor Csőre recounts it all in a very appealing and entertaining fashion. Despite his abundant charm, however, the language remains unyieldingly old-fashioned and poetic – hence, very difficult to understand. November 8, 26
Lear király [King Lear] - Shakespeare’s juggernaut tragedy is staged in a modern, though enjoyable fashion by director Róbert Alföldi. All the characters are seated around a massive semi-circular table for lunch, and who is that? King Lear has a wife?! (She will stand in as the Fool in future scenes.) The increasing destruction and disorder in this living room symbolizes the decay and degeneration in relationships and the kingdom itself. (Pay attention to the spinach bisque. It will be important.) Mari Csomos brings the greatest depth to her role as Kent (although it is not at all certain that the king believes her disguise), and András Pál is an able Edmund. In the lead role, Zsolt László does not delve deeply into Lear, but his erratic and staccato style is appropriate for the king’s unhinged behavior, and he completely commits to the nude scene. This may not be a cathartic King Lear, but the final stage picture is haunting. November 21, 30
Woyzeck - The Anyaszínház Company makes some bold moves with Büchner’s chilling, troubling, unfinished classic, and part of the thrill is watching how many of their gambles pay off. The eye-popping direction makes up for some of the flat acting. November 2
Tizennegyes kórterem [Hospital Room 11] - A very promising play written by newcomer Tamás Tóth tackles the familiar trope of the mental patient who has an enlightening and potentially dangerous effect on his fellow inmates. Seemingly set in modern times and in a French (!) institution, the show benefits from committed performances by László Kassai (as the head psychiatrist) and Gábor Jaszberényi (as the young man who believes he is St. Martin). November 13, 14
Folyóügy [Case in Progress] - A clever set and lively stage movement brighten up Braun Barna’s cabaret-like vignettes of Hungarian reality. There are plenty of laughs of recognition, not a terrible amount of depth, and at least one troubling stereotype. Stand-outs in the cast are Katalin Merai and Gábor Jaszberényi. November 17, 18
Szomjás férfiak isznak helyettem [Thirsty Men Drink Instead of Me] - This lively cabaret featuring four distinctive actresses (directed by actor Zsolt Mathé of the Örkény Company) attempts to crystallize the experiences of contemporary Hungarian women. Along the way there are some pearls of comedy, but not enough dramaturgical string to hold it together. November 19
Többszörös orgaznus [Multiple Orgasms] In this long-standing crowd-pleaser by the Anarchista Company, director Ferenc Sebő, Jr., takes as an instructional guidebook to the world of sexual swingers and develops a series of wild sketches with his fine ensemble of very game actors. You may not approve of the lifestyle on display or buy into the swinger philosophy, but you are guaranteed some hearty belly laughs. November 22
A rettentő görög hős [The Fearsome Greek Hero] - Stúdió K has a long tradition of brilliant puppet shows for children, and this rendering of the exploits of Theseus is certainly one of them. It is a great introduction to these tales from Greek mythology, and young theatergoers relish the scenes of stylized violence. November 4
Szívszakadtig [Till Heartbreak] - What begins as a romantic melodrama about heart transplants takes a dive into political button-pushing with the sudden appearance of a half-black, illegitimate, retarded young man capable of astonishing violence if he ever receives the love that he craves. Writer Béla Pintér is out to provoke our worst fears about immigrants, but the result is a rancid brew. Best to skip this one. November 2, 3, 4, 12, 13
A nagy füzet - The Notebook deploys a bizarre mix of elements – offbeat casting, dance, and strange use of food as props – to serve up a remarkably stimulating adaptation of Ágota Kristóf’s bleak World War Two-era novel with a hypnotic final tableau. Just be familiar with the story beforehand. The actors deliver chunks of prose at top speed. November 8
Bányavíz [Mine Water] - The final installment of Csaba Székely’s trilogy about modern life for Hungarians in Transylvania is the least successful of the three. While the portrayal of trapped lives is heart-felt (and Andrea Bozó is particularly good as the dotty older sister), the core relationship between the priest and his adopted son is not credible. November 14
Caligula helytartója [Caligula’s Deputy] - Transylvanian playwright János Székely’s drama (set in Ancient Roman times, but with parallels to despotic Communist rule) is a modern classic. It receives a fine production here with thoughtful (and by no means boring) direction by Rémusz Szikszai and a fine turn by Gábor Nagypál in the title role. November 16
I. Erzsébet [Elizabeth I] - Modern English playwright Paul Foster revisits the history books and gives us a burlesque-style romp, providing some delightful off-the-wall sketches, but also some troubling stereotypes and a heavy-handed conclusion (warning us of the evils and potential resurgence of Fascism). Although he was acclaimed for his lead role in drag, I found Tamás Fodor’s performance overrated. Far more entertaining were Péter Bercsényi (as Mary Queen of Scots) and Gergő Kaszás (as Catherine de Medici). November 17
42. hét [42nd Week] When widow and obstetrician Dr. Imola Virágvári falls for TV personality and star László Vargyas, she embarks on a second adolescence, but beware the cruel hand of fate! The piece is a perfect example of Pintér’s modern Hungarian magic realism and perhaps his most fully-developed storyline. Highly recommended. November 19, 20, 21
Gyevuska [Devushka] - Another unique theatrical confection by Béla Pintér, this drama blends orchestral music, sung dialogue, and the visual world of B&W film to tell the story of the ill-fated Hungarian bicycle corps, deployed in Russia during World War Two. Forbidden love, betrayal, and drug use are all involved. The result is not flawless, but the sonic / visual / emotional experience is definitely memorable. November 6, 7
Az időnk rövid törtenete [A Brief History of Our Time] - Get a seat near the front in order to appreciate the fine puppetry as four elderly strangers embark on an odyssey to dispose of their mutual friend’s ashes. A touching show, but despite the puppets, not recommended for children! November 10
Titkaink [Our Secrets] - This bomb devised by Béla Pintér exploded in 2014, and it has left audiences shaken ever since. As an intelligent exposé of Communist-era informers, the dance house movement, and pedophilia, it is simply unbeaten at straining the viewers’ nerves to their breaking point. Plus brilliant gender-bending performances by Eszter Csakányi and Angéla Stefanovics. Highly recommended! November 15, 16, 17
A léggömb elrepül [The Balloon Flies Away] - Promising a carefree bill of prose, poetry, and songs by beloved early 20th-century writer Dezső Kosztolányi, this one-man-show does not disappoint us. It may take a strong command of Hungarian to understand the text, but as Béla Festbaum sings and narrates his way through the material, you know you are in the hands of a pro. A thoroughly charming event! (studio space) November 19
See you at the theatre!
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