Here is your guide to the performance options in February 2018.
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.
Kaiser TV, Ungarn - Time travel and a mythical 19th-century television station are just a couple of the fantastic premises on which this tale is based, hinging on the possibly reversible outcome of a battle in the Revolution of 1848. This could be Béla Pintér’s most feel-good show. (He and Szabolcs Thuróczy give splendid turns as Sándor Petőfi and Lajos Kossuth, respectively.) Still, this story is definitely by Hungarians for Hungarians. February 2, 3
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. February 17
Vőlegény [The Bridegroom] - While Ernő Szép’s play is a provocative treat from the 1920s, in which a struggling lower middle class family is happy to prostitute their youngest daughter if the financial rewards are adequate, the cast fails to evoke a convincing picture of everyday life in the crowded flat. Tamás Kimmel-Szabó is splendid in the title role. Patricia Kovács is adequate. With time, György Gazsó and Katlin Takács may strike the right balance as the young girl’s parents. The double seduction scene in the second act is the highlight, but all too often, director Eszter Novák replaces comedy with onstage busy-ness. February 24
Bethlen Téri Színház
Godot-ra várva [Waiting for Godot] - Samuel Beckett’s classic modern opus of cabaret comedy and ennui features two homeless bums, Vladimir and Estragon, who await the arrival of the god-like Godot. Miklós B. Székely was born to play Vladimir, but he is the consummate natural actor. (Just listen to how he interrupts!) József Tóth, on the other hand, is more stylized as Estragon. For the first half, they seem to be in different plays. Why is Vladimir so fond of Estragon? Why does Estragon delight in teasing him? The relationship needs to be fleshed out. Yes, I wish the producers had devised a more creative visual world for this play. I wish Róbert Ilyés would identify with his character more and stop playing for effect. The first 90 minutes is tough, but what is Beckett without a little pain? In act two, the magic of the language asserts itself. The humor is preserved as the show achieves a sense of annihilating despair. If you need a fix of Beckett, the second act delivers. February 4
Budapest Bábszínház (Puppet Theatre)
Semmi [Nothing] - Climb four flights of stairs to the Lili Ország Studio and try to get a seat in the front row on the left side for this puppet show adaptation of the nihilistic Danish young adult novel by Janne Teller. When 7th-grade Pierre becomes a malcontent, his classmates sacrifice their favorite things to demonstrate what is good about life. (This part is rather predictable.) Then comes a second round and – whoa, how morbid will they go?! As the characters make their ultimate sacrifices, they put away their puppets and continue to perform as live adults. There are still some twists in store, and it is all punctuated by good rock numbers performed by the cast. An entertaining show! February 5, 8
Budapest Operetta Theatre
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. February 10, 11
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.
Porgy and Bess - In defiance of the Gershwin family, which owns the rights to this work, the Hungarian State Opera has staged this controversial classic with white singers. Yet, the cast and musicians are not up to the task, and their efforts are hobbled the clumsy direction of András Almási-Tóth. This is a poor substitute for the real thing. February 1, 8
For the complete review, click here.
Simon Boccanegra - Verdi’s opera gets the story-book treatment here, but despite the handful of wacky touches, this is still a traditional and comprehensible rendering of this dark tale of redemption. If you are an opera fan and dislike modern tinkering with the old classics, then this production is perfect for you. February 2, 3, 4, 6, 9
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) February 4, 14
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. February 2, 9
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. February 3, 16
Bebújós [Snuggle In] - When the children’s games at nursery school take on a sexual nature, the parents start hysterically pointing fingers, and there are plenty of red herrings to keep the audience guessing. Nearly all the actors play one parent and their respective child, so it is clear how behavior and traits are passed along. Another good show by Andrea Pass! February 7
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. February 9
Napraforgó [Sunflower] - Andrea Pass’s finely observed family drama slips in under the radar, but the audience is soon party to her characters’ innermost feelings, culminating in complicated conflicts, Chekhovian silences, and emotional catharsis. Highly recommended! February 18
Négy fal között… [Between Four Walls; or, Closed Doors, Open Legs] - Inspired by an old-fashioned Austrian sex manual, this play seeks to uncover the sexual secrets and hang-ups of one family, relying mostly on physical motion and behavior (not dialogue) to tell the story. It is too underdeveloped to support the piece’s mounting absurdity. Nevertheless, Rozi Székely is excellent. February 21
Árpádház [House of Árpád] - György Spiró’s historical drama follows the Hungarian royal family from Kálmán the Bookish to Géza II (c. 1110-1140), but mostly focusing on Béla II (or Béla the Blind). Despite mostly bland dialogue, this can be a good show (as previous productions have shown) if the producers supplement it with exciting elements. Still, the cast, crew, and musicians here all seem to be holding back. The result is as dull as history class. February 25
Theatre are the Karinthy is a definitely retro experience. The venue is small, and it can get crowded when the numerous grumpy pensioners jostle for positions in the coat check line. The décor and buffet whisk one back to pre-Capitalist days. The auditorium is charming, but may be due for renovations soon.
Az ördög [The Devil] - The painter János is in love with his best friend’s wife, but to melt her cold, cold ice, he is going to need the help of the devil. Ferenc Molnár’s comedies often have dramatic moments (see Glass Slipper and The Guardsman), but this play, his first international success, has plenty of purple passages. It is staged on a set that suggests lavish lifestyles, but the effect is strikingly fake. Much more attention went into the costumes, which are pretty, but why they did not put the devil in a tuxedo for the second act (when it was mentioned specifically in act one) I will never know. Thankfully, Tamás Földes is good in the loquacious title role. The romantic leads are much less charismatic. February 7, 14, 15
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, carrying the subversive message that sometimes lack of communication saves relationships. February 17, 26
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. February 9, 10
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) February 9
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. February 11
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. February 12, 18
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. February 21
Locspocs - Children’s performances are often very entertaining and inventive, as well as easier to understand than adult drama. Take for example the tale of Locspocs, the sea monster who is afraid of the water. He overcomes his fear, learns how to swim from an octopus, embarks on an adventure, and finally finds a deserted island where there lives a near-sighted female dragon who seems made for him. Along the way, there are colorful cameos, like the pirate Másfél played by István Mult. February 11, 12
Alvás [Sleep] - This staging of Norwegian playwright Jon Fosse’s atmospheric piece mostly works as a star vehicle for Ildikó Hámori, who is ethereal as the old woman and ghost. The rest of the cast is uneven. They embody, for the most part, three couples who occupy the same flat at different times. Gábor Csőre, who is usually excellent, fails to bring the material to life, and Iván Dengyel gives one of the laziest performances I have seen in a long time. Women are usually the cause of troubles in these relationships, and at the end, a character steps forward and explains all the connections to us. The play fails to enchant. February 20
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. February 3
Peer Gynt - Do not expect a full version of Ibsen’s classic epic fantasy in verse. This rendition by Káva Kulturális Műhely focuses on a small portion of the whole with intense audience interaction, so spectators shape the performance. The cast is strong, especially Sándor Terhes as the Goblin King. February 14
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. February 28
Nemzeti Színház [National Theatre]
Shakespeare Összes Rövidítve (SÖR) [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) February 2, 3
Szent Szőrnyetegek [Saintly Monsters] - Best described as an existential All About Eve, Cocteau’s play is well constructed with plenty of passionate speeches and emotional twists, and the director does a convincing job of modernizing and localizing it to the National Theatre. Still, the production is overloaded with extraneous material and distracting effects. Auguszta Tóth and Mari Nagy shine in their supporting roles, and Eszter Ács, who is very credible as an ambitious young actress, holds her own against seasoned pros like Eszter Nagy-Kálózy and Zoltán Rátóti. February 2, 8
For the complete review, click here.
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. February 4
Psyché - This attractive adaptation of Sándor Weörös’s remarkable creation (based on the work of a mythical 19th century poetess that Weörös penned himself) boasts a strong ensemble cast of passionate young acting school graduates. The text, though, is extremely challenging. Much of the original’s humor does not make it to the stage, so the ending becomes bogged down in melodrama and feels thirty minutes too long. February 4
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. February 8, 9
Vitéz lélek [Valiant Spirit] - One of Áron Tamási’s lesser-known plays, it receives a lavish production here with well-conceived set and lighting designs. Typical of the author, it mixes pastoral realism and fairy-tale, but the construction is somewhat lopsided. Actor Lajos Ottó Horváth must single-handedly bear enough tragedy for two plays (or one Calderón drama) in the last act, but he does so admirably. At the end, a hymn resounds, as though we are inside a large organ, no doubt to underscore the roots of Hungarian Catholicism in rural Transylvania. February 19
For a related article about Áron Tamási, click here.
Szentivánéji álom [Midsummer Night’s Dream] - This re-imagining 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, is transformed into an ass (as in donkey) and 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. February 27
Örkény István Theatre
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. February 1, 19
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) February 1, 16, 24
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 every performer, seasoned veterans and talented newcomers alike, has a shining moment. February 2, 20
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. As in several other Örkény productions, the incidental music provided by Árpád Kákonyi is icing on the cake. February 3, 15
Az átváltozás [The Metamorphosis] - Like the monolithic panopticon that dominates the set for the first half, this adaptation of a selection of Kafka short stories is rather impenetrable. Gregor Samsa’s transformation is barely glimpsed behind a pop-out window, and then the actor remains unaffected, although multiplied by an onstage chorus. Is his new bug-like nature only a figment of his imagination? Meanwhile, we never really get to know his family members. There are some moving moments, but possibly only because they reminded me how I felt when I read these stories originally. Eszter Csakányi wields a puppet version of herself, perhaps hinting at the theme of doubled or fractured identity, but then it is inadequately developed, like much of this show. February 4, 16, 26
For the complete review, click here.
Azt meséld el, Pista [Tell That One, Stevie] - For his one-man-show, Pál Mácsai embodies the theatre’s namesake, István Örkény, and simply recounts tales from the talented author’s life. No, it is not a three-act drama, but it delivers precisely what it promises. February 5, 6
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? February 7
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-page 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 the program again and again during the nearly five-hour running time. Given the bare-bones set, we get the impression of a low-budget, lengthy Sunday school pageant with too few, albeit uncommonly talented, performers. February 8, 22, 25
For the complete review, click here.
I. 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. February 10, 24, 28
For the complete review, click here.
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, this is mere storytelling with absolutely no tension or conflict. (studio space) February 11, 17
Az ügynök halála [Death of a Salesman] - True to their style, the Örkény stages Miller’s classic in a stripped-down, minimal fashion – meant to bring out the beauty of the text and not necessarily arouse our emotions. When Willy’s wife claims at the end, “I cannot cry,” we are supposed to share her sentiment. February 11
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). February 13, 27
Tótek [The Toth 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. February 14, 23
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-do 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. February 17
Pedig én jó anya voltam [But I Was a Good Mother] - A dual homicide in 1979 provides the basis for this monodrama, adapted from István Vajda’s interview with the mother of the murderer, the last criminal to receive the death penalty in Hungary. Judit Pogány gives one of the most shattering performances in the city, if your nerves and language skills are up to the challenge. We begin with a portrait of an utterly ordinary woman and hear her sorrowful tale, before a perception shift at the end pulls the emotional rug out from under us. (studio space) February 21
A testőr [The Guardsman] - Enikó Esenyi and András Stohl inject plenty of energy and star power into this comic gem by Ferenc Molnár, and while the arc of some scenes may get lost, they pack in the laughs. They play is modernized, particularly with regard to the costumes and the acting couple’s spacious flat, although some of the references remain dated. András Kern proves to be a great straight man, feeding the co-stars their cue lines like a pro. The only disappointment is Erzsébet Kútvölgyi, who fails to be funny as the obnoxious mother-in-law. Overall, a good show. February 3, 8
For the complete review, click here.
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. February 17
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. February 21
Üvegfigurák [Glass Menagerie] - This production helmed by Péter Valló loses much of the poetry of the original, but mines uncommon sources of humor, which serves as an antidote to the cloying sentimentality that often hangs over this play. Jenny Horváth’s set captures the opacity / transparency that Tennessee Williams called for, but then Ádám Porogi (as Tom) must constantly slide the walls into position. And watch the stereotypes at the beginning: Jack Daniel’s, Lucky Strikes and country music! How American can we get? Like the music choices, the outcome is mixed. Rozi Lovas’s reactions and handicap are too exaggerated in the first half, but she shines in her scene with Daniel Viktor Nagy, who is excellent as the gentleman caller. By using a device from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Tom must grow increasingly drunk as he narrates, only to sober up suddenly for his final weepy speech. Adél Kováts creates a very clear character for Amanda, but comes off as a verbal tyrant who will not allow anyone else to speak. There are fine elements in this production, but the performers need more time with the material and experience with audiences in order to strike the right balance. February 4, 7, 19
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. February 21
Téli rege [Winter’s Tale] - If you wish to see a faithful production of this masterwork by Shakespeare, the Radnóti’s show is highly recommended. The play is compelling, and the actors, by and large, do justice to their roles. Yet, the direction, though very competent, lacks color, imagination, and focus, best typified by András Bálint’s dull-as-dishwater performance as the narrator Time. February 24
Többszörös orgazmus [Multiple Orgasms] - In this long-standing crowd-pleaser by the Anarchista Company, director Ferenc Sebő, Jr., takes 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. February 3
Anyajegy [Birthmark] - Using the writings of Anna T. Szabó as her source, director and performer Anna Markó-Valentyik provides a personal account of pregnancy, birth, and raising a small child, complemented with skillful puppetry. There are no huge revelations in the script, but it is a winning performance that affirms the role of theatre as a forum to share experiences and enlighten others. February 7
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). February 14
Woyzeck - The Anyaszínház Company makes some bold moves with Büchner’s chilling, disturbing, 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. February 17
Bolondok hajója [Ship of Fools] - Sebastian Brant’s text from the late 15th century provided the foundation for improvised sketches by RS9’s mixed company of mostly non-professional actors, later honed into a nearly two-hour production by director Katalin Lábán. In between the seemingly random and unrelated scenes, Péter Koleszár-Bazil reads chunks of the original text, well-translated by László Márton. Of the passengers on this craft, I found Hajnal Túri (described by critic Tamás Tarján as a “black angel”) to be the most fascinating. Nevertheless, it feels like a long journey to nowhere. February 23
Dzsuva [Debris] - Dennis Kelly’s “in-yer-face” play, from 2003, has been described as “ingeniously repellent” by The Guardian. It receives a Hungarian production, well translated by Júlia Sándor and well performed by Géza Egger and Katalin Papp of TÁP Színház. (It has also appeared at the AppArtMan LakáSzínház venue.) As brother and sister attempting to reconstruct their nightmarish childhood, the two actors simply sit and deliver the material like prose, playing extra roles when necessary, with extraordinary credibility. This type of Theatre of Disgust is not common in Hungary. The material reminded me of Patrick McCabe’s “The Butcher Boy.” Remarkable work, but it requires strong language skills and a strong stomach to enjoy. February 24
A fizikusok [The Physicists] - The key to Dürrenmatt’s classic mind-bending play is the name of the main character, Dr. Möbius, an inmate of a mental institution where a series of nurses are killed. The Möbius strip is three-dimensional, but has only one side. Thus, the three inmates in this piece may all be insane or may all be brilliant physicists. Both stories are possible at the same time. The actors who understand the game stand out from the pack. They include Andrea Sztárek, Ági Gubik, and Kálmán Varju. The others are simply occupying space. This is salient in the case of János Perjés, who does little more than recite lines as Dr. Möbius. He has starring roles in several of the shows at Spirit Színház, which is beginning to resemble a vanity venue. February 7, 17
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. February 6, 17
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). February 2
Bányavakság [Mine Blindness] - The second (and most satisfying) installment of Csaba Székely’s trilogy about modern life for Hungarians in Transylvania focuses on politics, scandal, and blackmail, topped off with a dollop of ethnic tension and violence. The misery may seem a bit overdone by the end, but Gergő Kaszás is spectacular in the lead role. February 13
A nagy füzet [The Notebook] - Deploying a bizarre mix of elements – offbeat casting, dance, and strange use of food as props – this adaptation of Ágota Kristóf’s bleak World War Two-era novel is remarkably stimulating with a hypnotic final tableau. Just be familiar with the story beforehand. The actors deliver chunks of prose at top speed. February 15
Fácántánc [Pheasant Dance] - This altogether different offering by Béla Pintér’s company does not appeal to our emotions. Rather, it unfolds like an intellectual fable. An orphanage / sweat-shop in Hungary, once it is freed from Turkish domination, embraces the bureaucratic and liberal ways of the West. But then a leaked recording shifts the power from Mrs. Rázga to the gender-bending Gabi, who wishes to lean East, in a more illiberal direction. Thinly veiled political commentary? Perhaps, but it is entertaining and thought-provoking, predicting that the next generation (with no models of good leadership) will move in a radical direction. February 18, 19, 20
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. February 21, 22, 23
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! February 24, 25, 27, 28
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! February 11, 12
Az időnk roved 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! February 18
Turay Ida Színház
A medve nem játék! [Bears Are No Game!] - Perhaps the only reason to see this show is if you wish to understand the góbé stereotype of the Székely ethnic group (Hungarian speakers living in the most eastern region of Transylvania). It also represents a throw-back to folk theatre traditions, but as Csaba Székely’s modern dramas assure us, this is nostalgia for a way of life that has passed or never existed at all. Despite the off-color nature of the sketches, the spirit of this show is staunchly conservative. Traditional folk costumes are preserved along with old-fashioned gender roles – laconic men drink in the kocsma, and the suffering wives toil all day long. Even the Playboy that one character reads is outdated, since the magazine no longer features nude women. There is a smattering of song and dance, and Ádám Boros is a clever dancer and narrator (his delivery, reminiscent of stand-up comedy, owes plenty to raconteur András Berecz). Still, these strained and hackneyed gags mostly serve to reinforce the prejudices of the relatively older audience. February 22
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Játék a kastélyban [The Play’s the Thing] - This classic meta-theatre exercise by Ferenc Molnár is a gem, but by all means, avoid the current production in which the uneven cast tends to fumble the comedy. The leading role of Turai, the mastermind playwright, can be a tour de force for an actor, but Miklós Benedek mostly mumbles his way through it. February 2, 14
Hamlet - For the first time in its long history, Vígszínház hosts the Danish prince and does so on a wondrous set that lifts, descends, rotates, lights up, shows videos, etc. Still, the dramaturgy gets a little wonky, starting off with a dues ex machine (the ghost’s appearance), but then not following through with it. (I could imagine Fortinbras appearing at the end in the same fashion, but certainly not Laertes.) Attila Vidnyánszky, Jr., brings astounding energy and physicality to his battle with this unwieldy text, but he seems to be abusing his vocal chords for the last two hours. In the second half, there is a purifying pool of water, where Hamlet and Gertrude (Enikő Börcsök) share an incestuous kiss, and where King Claudius (Géza D. Hegedűs) and Ophelia (Nóra Réti) take separate nude dips (the former flamboyantly, the latter bashfully). All in all, the message is difficult to discern. Who is this Hamlet who impersonates his mother in drag before the whole court, and who has much more chemistry with the Player King (Károly Hajduk) than with Ophelia? He begins to resemble Helmut Berger’s character from Visconti’s film The Damned. On the plus side, Ákos Orosz gives us an emotionally credible Laertes, and the climactic swordfight is impressive. February 5, 6, 25
A Pentheszileia Program - A young college student in Kolozsvár (Cluj-Napoca) battles her demons and three generations of emotional baggage in this provocative new play, written and directed by Réka Kincses. The result is passionate, personal, and poetic, boasting an excellent performance by Csenge Szilágyi, who embodies this anti-heroine (a “man-eating” Amazon) with remarkable aplomb. The strong and highly committed supporting cast includes Zsuzsa Hullan (as the mother), Kati Lázár (as the grandmother and great-grandmother), and Gábor Hevér (as the amoral therapist). The language is challenging, but it rewards the undaunted. (studio space) February 23
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) February 24
See you at the theatre!
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