GUIDE TO PERFORMANCES IN MAY 2018

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Here is your guide to the performance options in May 2018

Entries are arranged by theater or venue.

 

Átrium Színház

 

This former cinema retains its classy, nostalgic interior, and there is a great 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.

Sehova kapuja [Gate to Nowhere]  This early play by Béla Pintér deals with the misguided evangelists of a religious cult who journey deep into the countryside to make converts. Fanaticism, alcoholism, folk dancing, drug use, and repressed sexuality are all unpacked. A journey to nowhere, perhaps, but undeniably unique. May 22, 23

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! May 24

 

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 (childhood selves) and continue to perform as adults. There are still some twists in store, and it is all punctuated by good rock numbers performed by the cast. An entertaining show! May 23, 24, 25

 

Belvárosi Színház

 

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. May 24

 

Budapest Operetta Theatre

 

Kékszakáll [Bluebeard]  To call it grotesque would be an understatement. The operetta is set in a stylized 1950s-era office building where sexual harassment is not a concept, just a facet of the work environment. The office’s nymphomaniac cleaning lady (Barbara Bordás) wins the organization’s beauty pageant, whereupon she receives a proposal from Mr. Bluebeard (Donát Varga), the billionaire boss with a penchant for murdering his spouses. Yet, when Bluebeard spots the secretary Fleurette (Luca Bojtos), masquerading as the lost daughter of the senator (László Szacsvay) with similarly homicidal habits, Bluebeard vows to poison his new bride and take Fleurette as his seventh wife, on the very evening her “parents” plan for her to wed Prince Saphir (Attila Dolhai). The cast is uniformly spirited and enthusiastic, which goes a long way to selling this bizarre and unsettling material. Hats off to director Kriszta Székely for her bold imagining of this work! While some of Noémi Kulcsár’s choreography has not clicked yet, it may improve with time. May 10, 11, 12, 13

 

József Attila Színház

 

Az Üvegcipő [The Glass Slipper] This traditional staging provides a perfect opportunity to discover Ferenc Molnár’s Cinderella tale in the Józsefváros district. The production captures the 1920s boarding-house milieu quite well, but its model is clearly the legendary production of 1962, which featured Gábor Agárdi and Edit Domján. In this version, Dóra Létay is more than capable as the cool-headed landlady Adél. Károly Nemcsák, with his slow, bear-like physicality, makes the role Sipos, the bourgeois middle-aged carpenter, his own. Réka Thália-Fekete, is appealing as the love-struck serving maid Irma, but her devotion to Sipos plays like an older man’s fantasy, too good to be true. May 10

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) May 23

 

Jurányi Inkubátorház

 

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! May 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. May 7, 24

Menekülj okosan! [Flee Wisely] Like Lifeboat Group’s previous offering Sociopoly, this production combines elements of interactive theatre and board games in an effort to enlighten the audience about a particular issue – in this case, the refugee crisis. We sit in a classroom on four sides of the acting space and represent a community of villagers who must flee Hungary on account of some unnamed disaster. The game gets off to a slow start as we try to determine the rules and figure out how much of this is theatre, storytelling, and lecture. There are some kinks to work out, but plenty of thought-provoking material to discuss long after the performance. Strong command of Hungarian needed to play! May 8, 29

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. May 9, 23

Árpádház [House of Árpád]  Spiró’s historical drama follows the Hungarian royal family from Kálmán the Bookish to Géza II (c. 1110-1140), but mostly focuses 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 boring as history class. May 12

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. May 27

 

Karinthy Színház

 

Theatre at 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 The 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. May 22, 29

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. May 26

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. May 27, 31

 

Katona József Színház

 

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. May 1

Széljegy [Marginal Note]  Prolific playwright György Spiró's new piece about sharks and marks on the real estate market plays like a verbose one-act, staged on a cool lozenge-shaped set with seating on both sides and delivered at top speed by the excellent cast. The dialogue is sparkling, but one hour is still a long time to watch a naive victim (Andrea Fullajtár) and her overbearing mother (Kati Takács) walk unsuspectingly into an obvious trap. Also, we do not receive much insight into the villains' motivations, neither those of the low-life swindler (Barna Bányai-Kelemen) nor the lawyer (Judit Rezes) who is capable of cruelly betraying her former friend. (studio space) May 2, 4

Ascher Tamás Háromszéken [Tamás Ascher in Háromszék]  Béla Pintér's new piece at the Katona works on a variety of levels. In part, it is a riposte to those who criticized his handling of public individuals' private lives in A bajnok. Now he returns with a parody of himself, director Tamás Ascher, actor Zoltán Bezerédi, and the theatre's manager Gábor Máté. It is a brilliant evening of comedy and drama with a great cast and splendid music by Csaba Ökrös, but with so many themes – meta-theatre, Chekhov adaptations (Three Sisters and, if you are paying attention, The Seagull), backstage drama, folk song paraphrases, alcoholism, sexual harassment, reproductive rights, male irresponsibility, irredentism, and urban snobbism – there is far too much to unpack adequately. Plus, foreigners will have a hard time appreciating the in-jokes and the song lyrics. May 5, 6

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) May 7

Nóra – karácsony Helmeréknél [Nora – Christmas at the Helmers]  Kriszta Székely’s direction of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House is faithful to the spirit of the original, and with such talented actors, there are moments that resonate like never before. Ultimately, though, all the modernization threatens to render the original shock ending meaningless. Neither we nor the producers are really sure if Nora ever flees the gilded cage. May 10

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. May 25

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. May 26, 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) May 26, 27

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. May 30

 

Kolibri Színház

 

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. May 11, 12

 

Mozsár Műhely

 

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. May 10

 

MU Színház

 

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. May 5

 

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. May 2

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) May 26, 30, 31

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. May 31

 

Örkény István Theatre

 

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? May 3

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 (Csaba Polgár) 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 disturbed identity, but then it is inadequately developed, like much of this show. May 4, 29

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. May 5

IV. 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. May 6, 18

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) May 7, 18, 31

A hattyú [The Swan]  The set suggests decadence; the costumes some unintelligible tradition which the characters feel compelled to follow or subvert. While Csaba Polgár’s production makes some good dramaturgical choices, all the pregnant pauses and added musical numbers run the risk of inflating Ferenc Molnár’s soap bubble of a humanist comedy too far, and the final tableau puts the bitter in bittersweet. All things considered, though, this is a fine introduction to Molnár’s comic genius. The cast is uniformly great. May 8, 17, 30

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. May 9, 16

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. May 10, 11, 26

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) May 11, 30

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. May 22

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. May 23, 24, 25

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. May 31

 

Pesti Színház

 

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. May 3

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. May 5, 29, 30

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. May 15

 

Radnóti Színház

 

III. Richárd [Richard III]  For the first half, famed Romanian director Andrei Şerban, who is keen on turning up the house lights and implicating the audience in the story, shows us why he is a master of modern direction. He makes the most of the smallest details, his color scheme is a bold contrast of black and yellow, and he practically scores his dialogue with sound effects, cued to the actors’ lines and stage business. It can be a challenging medium for the performers, however, who must somehow imbue these figures with life. Róbert Alföldi (who is plagued by more tics and insecurities than most Richards) succeeds, as does András Pál (as Buckingham). József Kelemen as Hastings has stunning blue eyes, but relies too much on tired bits. Zsolt László is arresting as the dethroned Queen Margaret, Zoltán Schneider is hilarious as a spokesman riffing his way through the extended coronation scene, and Adél Kováts flies under the radar as Elizabeth to delivers a concluding speech that is haunting in its restraint. Still, the play suffers when we lose sight of the human drama, which is often drowned out by distracting light and sound effects in the bombastic second act. May 15, 16, 20, 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 let anyone else speak. There are fine elements in this production. With more time and experience, the performers might strike the right balance. May 18, 24

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, Péter Valló’s direction, though very competent, lacks color, imagination, and focus, best typified by András Bálint’s dull-as-dishwater performance as the narrator Time. May 19 (last performance)

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. May 29 (last performance)

 

RS9 Színház

 

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 asylum, 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). May 9

Szürke kertek [Grey Gardens]  This stage adaptation of the Maysles brothers’ cult documentary has returned, and I welcome it with open arms, since its WTF factor is through the roof. What possessed Orsolya Balogh and Esztella Levko (two committed and apparently talented actresses) to adapt this work? The result is a well-performed, but static 50-minute kvetch fest. Despite its shortcomings, the performance is a mind-bending treat for fans of the film, and the set by Anna Fekete is simply perfect. May 9

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. May 10

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. May 12

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 referred to in the title, an elusive and ultimately unattainable object of desire. May 13, 20

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 an “angel in black”) to be the most fascinating. Nevertheless, it feels like a long journey to nowhere. May 24

 

Spirit Színház

 

When you enter Spirit Színház (near Elvis Presley Park just north of Margaret Bridge on the Buda side), you are confronted with an aquarium, then a long hall with a coat check, exposed brick, books for sale, a buffet, a confusing mix of decorations, and live piano music. Audience members line up well before they are allowed into the nondescript studio space upstairs, and with reason. There is practically no hope of a good view of the acting area if you sit anywhere behind the fourth row.

Bernarda Alba háza [House of Bernarda Alba]  This classic play about sexual repression by Frederico Garcia Lorca is sensational; yet, all the elements here – the set, costumes, staging, and characterizations – fall a bit below the mark, not quite capturing the claustrophobia, hysteria, and menace of the original. The sound effects are particularly ill-advised. That said, the performances are heartfelt, and story holds our attention for the duration (90 minutes without a break). Overall, it has the quality of an exceptionally good amateur performance – quite moving for the initiated, but none too revealing if you go in cold. May 4

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. May 13

 

Stúdió K

 

Babaház (Nóra) [A Doll’s House]  In this reductive rendition of Ibsen’s revolutionary play, all the characters are dolls, arranged onstage by a mute fellow with a swollen, brainy noggin. (I assume he stands for Ibsen.) Zsuzsanna Lukin, as a spinster with rolled-down stockings, narrates it all, further placing the text in quotation marks. Then, more commentary is added by a deranged young woman, possibly a rape victim, who delivers blasphemous and obscene speeches. Júlia Nyakó (as Nora) and Gábor Nagypál (as Dr. Rank) are able to convey some emotion despite these restrictions. Others, such as Katalin Homonnai (as Kristine) and Noémi Tóth (as the teary maid), manage to be decorative. György Sipos (as a literally spineless Krogstad) is too comic to be an effective antagonist. In spite of some gorgeous stage pictures, it is all inadequately lit by an annoying, abstract, animated projection. This is a perfect example of the art of the bluff, courtesy of director András Jeles. May 3

 

Szkéné Színház

 

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. May 4

A demon gyermekei [The Devil’s Children] The focus of Béla Pintér’s one-act is once again a miserable family, only here the household tyrant is the mother (played fearlessly by the author). Plenty of gender bending (for example, Zoltán Friedenthal’s excellent portrayal of Mónika) and a Japanese setting keep things interesting. The resolution, however, seems rushed, leaving us wishing for more. May 8, 9,10

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! May 19, 20

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). May 22

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. May 23

Anyám orra [My Mother’s Nose]  Like some of Béla Pintér’s pieces, this exploration of moral insanity is arguably a trip to nowhere. Still, it is a thrilling and imaginative ride, and the final tableau is a knock-out. Undeniably memorable. May 29, 30, 31

 

Trafó

 

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. May 3, 4

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! May 13

 

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. May 3, 12, 19

 

Újszínház [New Theater]

 

Bizánc [Byzantium]  The Fall of Constantinople (conquered on May 29, 1453, by Sultan Mehmed and his Ottoman army) is the setting of Ferenc Herczeg’s classical play, but director Viktor Nagy has mixed success in his attempts to make it topical. The actors deliver the long flowery speeches with appropriate passion, but they fall short of resurrecting the epic, romantic style. The best reason to see Bizánc would be out of academic interest. May 24, 30

 

Vígszínház [Comedy Theater]

 

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 the Visconti film The Damned. On the plus side, Ákos Orosz gives us an emotionally credible Laertes, and the climactic swordfight is impressive. May 11, 12, 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. May 26, 31

 

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