Here is your guide to the performance options in January 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.
Átriumklorid - Committed theatre artists Gábor Hever and Kriszta Biró take on Lajos Parti-Nagy’s five (mostly) unrelated scenes about four and a half couples. At times more prosey than dramatic, it takes a master of the Hungarian language to truly appreciate Parti-Nagy’s cracked rendering of modern speech and slang. January 11
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 dimwitted impresario Géza. It could be the great absurd drama the actual author has yet to write. Recommended for confirmed Pintérites. January 20
Sirály [The Seagull] - In past years, Budapest has been saturated with stagings of this Chekhov classic, but young director Balázs Benő Fehér gives us his brave vision, first by casting the legendary operetta star Marika Oszvald as the aging diva Arkadina. The style is modern, minimal, and ironic, but not without impact. His cast forms a balanced ensemble, and in the last act, they don masks which lift their portrayals out of realism and into the grotesque. Like the recent production of Three Sisters at Örkény Theatre, the final group scene is like a tonal poem, but focused on the petty and meaningless concerns that fill up our lives. January 28
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. January 14, 31
Bethlen Téri Színház
Szmarana - The 20th year anniversary of the Sivasakti Kalánanda Dance Theatre is the occasion for this performance, which has the air of a dance recital. Still, the organizing framework is effective organizing, and there are plenty of memorable numbers packed in the 65-minute running time. It is hard not to fixate on the only male member of the troupe, Tamás Németh, who has brilliant extensions and resembles a Hindu god. Yet, the variety of talents and temperaments make this an appealing ensemble. One dancer, who has an almost permanent look of distaste, features in most of the acting bits and provides some good comic moments. January 24
Godot-ra várva [Waiting for Godot] - Beckett’s classic modern opus of cabaret comedy and ennui features two homeless drifters, 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 seem to delight in teasing him? The relationship needs more fleshing 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. January 25
Budapest Operetta Theatre
A víg özvegy [The Merry Widow] - This undisputed classic of operettas by Ferenc Lehár is not the lightest example of the genre. There is more plot and dialogue here than usually. Still, romantic leads Barbara Bordás and Attila Dolhai really sell the material, although the latter is sometimes weak on his high notes. Over-produced at times (like the drunken dance Dolhai performs with a chorus line of tipsy dance doubles), it nevertheless captures the blithe absurdity of this fun piece. January 9, 10, 11
Marica grófnő [Countess Marica] - A traditional and attractive production, this is a fine introduction to the world of operetta and the music of Imre Kálmán; yet, the quality can vary greatly depending on the cast. There are crowd-pleasing romantic duets, comic dance numbers (which are more acrobatic), and even a set piece with an “African dancer” in black body make-up – something hard to find nowadays in our socially-enlightened English-speaking theatre world. January 29, 30
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.
A cigánybáró [The Gypsy Baron] - Wisely setting this operetta by Johann Straus, Jr., in a carnival atmosphere, director Miklós Szinetár can be just as pastel and chintzy as he wants. Yet, with the story-book projection during the overture, it becomes clear that this is to be a lesson about Hungary’s culturally diverse past and the benefits of multiculturalism. To this end, he has András Hábleter play an obnoxious and largely superfluous narrator, who then must justify his presence onstage with distracting business. A final dance to “The Blue Danube” also underlines the message. Overall, though, the production is as whimsical as children’s theatre. It is far too fluffy to support social commentary, no matter how well-intended. January 3, 4, 5, 6, 7
For a complete review, click here.
Béla futása / Pikkó hertzeg [King Béla’s Flight / Prince Pikkó] - As the earliest surviving specimen of Hungarian opera, King Béla’s Flight, written by József Ruzutska in 1822, has a fairly repetitive Baroque style and static scenes. Still, it is a competently staged history lesson with a patriotic message. As Béla IV flees the overwhelming Tartar onslaught of 1241, he calls upon the lords to put aside their petty conflicts and power-mongering, so they may unite to defend the homeland. Prince Pikkó (originally composed by József Chudy in 1793, then lost, and now re-scored by contemporary composer György Orbán) is far more engaging with an undoubtedly more modern style. The twist ending is practically existential, and it features a great performance by Róbert Laczko-Vass in the lead role of the servant Sibuk. January 13
Oberon - The opera company of Kolozsvár [now Cluj-Napoca in Romania] returns with this rarely staged work by Carl Maria von Weber, but it is not as successful as their previous show at the Erkel (King Béla’s Flight / Prince Pikkó). Despite some interesting set choices, the whole production appears meager and under-scale. The story (which cribs freely from Shakespeare, Mozart, and Wagner) is none too compelling, and the singers are mostly not up to the technical demands (one exception being the bass Sándor Balla). The dancing is the most effective element. Unless you are mad for Weber, it is best to skip this one. January 14
For the complete review, click here.
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) January 7, 27
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! January 5
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. January 6, 25
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. January 6
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. January 7
Sociopoly - Don’t let language fears stop you from playing this interactive board game, acting as a member of one of four families trying to live out one month in the poorest county of Hungary. The situations are clear. Take a back seat and enjoy this one-of-a-kind, eye-opening experience. English version also available A must-try! January 12, 25
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: Angela Stefanovics, Zola Szabó, Natasa Stork, Zsuzsa Lőrincz, and the appropriately superhuman Zsolt Nagy. January 20
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! January 23
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. January 31
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. While 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. January 10, 28
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. January 13
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. January 12, 27
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) January 12
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) January 18, 26
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. January 23
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. January 29
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. January 17
Nemzeti Színház [National Theatre]
Holt Költők Társaság [Dead Poets’ Society] - The guest performers from Veszprém make a good effort to bring to life this stage adaptation of the classic film, but how can they possibly replicate or top the original? Pál Oberfrank is decent as the teacher, but no Robin Williams. The young actors who appear as students are appealing (especially Bence Szalay, who recently starred in the film Vizkis about the infamous bank robber Attila “Whisky” Ambrus). Nevertheless, stage is a different medium, depriving the performers of the subtle reactions and tiny gestures that film can convey. Finally, the antagonists are too sketchy to be effective. January 6
For the complete review, click here.
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. January 8, 9
For the complete review, click here.
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. January 10
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. January 14
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. January 17
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) January 18, 20
Örkény István Theatre
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. January 2
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. January 3, 22
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. January 4, 30
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) January 4, 20
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. January 5, 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) January 5, 14, 25
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? January 6
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. January 12, 14, 17, 24
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. January 13, 25
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. January 15, 21
For the complete review, click here.
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. January 16
For the complete review, click here.
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). January 23
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. January 26 (last performance)
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. January 28
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. January 3, 8
For a 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. January 7, 22
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. January 18
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. January 7, 26
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 let anyone else 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. January 10, 22, 25
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. Still, the direction, though very competent, lacks color, imagination, and focus, best typified by András Bálint’s dull-as-dishwater performance as the narrator Time. January 15, 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. January 5
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. January 6, 7
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. January 10
De mi lett a nővel? [But What Became of the Woman?] - Much in the style of Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged), the three Hungarian actors romp their way through nine interlocking short stories by Chekhov. Their spirit is infectious, and they capture the master’s bizarre sense of humor, often balanced on the razor’s edge of tragedy. Initially, they explore characters too self-centered to recognize other people’s pain, before evoking the legendary actress of the title, an elusive and ultimately unattainable object of desire. January 10, 19
Anyajegy [Birthmark] - Using the writings of Anna T. Szabó as her source, 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. January 22
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. January 23
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). January 24, 25
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. January 27
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! January 3, 4, 5
A Sütemények Királynője [The Queen of Cakes] - Mostly one concentrated scene of domestic misery. Béla Pintér tackles the topic of child neglect and abuse like no other contemporary Hungarian playwright, also turning in a brave performance as the tyrannical father. The cast is solid, and the effect is brutal, although the ending is too rushed. January 8, 9, 10
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. January 11, 12, 13, 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. January 15
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. January 22
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). January 24
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 heartfelt (and Andrea Bozó is particularly good as the dotty older sister), the core relationship between the priest and his adopted son is not credible. January 30
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! January 21
Gyevuska [Devushka] - Another unique theatrical confection by Béla Pintér, this drama blends orchestral music, sung dialogue, and the visual world of black-and-white 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. January 22, 23
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 proves to be 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. January 18
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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. January 4, 5, 13, 14, 18, 25
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. January 11, 26
A Pentheszileia Program - A young college student in Kolozsvár (now Cluj-Napoca in Romania) 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) January 16, 24
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) January 19
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