GUIDE TO PERFORMANCES IN OCTOBER 2018

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The theatre season was off to a slow start in September, but now it has kicked into high gear, with more premieres than one individual can possibly see. While I am catching up, here are my tips for the entertainment options on offer in October 2018.

Entries are arranged by theater or venue.

 

Átrium Színház (Atrium Theater)

 

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.

Kórház – Bakony [Hospital – Bakony] This very early effort by Béla Pintér is one of his most absurd outings, yet reveals much about his art. Grounded in the reality of a poorly-run hospital in the countryside where the protagonist’s father dies as a result of malpractice, it becomes a mythical search for the father figure through a folk-dancing wonderland, where the protagonist himself becomes a fearless, gunslinging betyar (Hungarian bandit). There is no perfect resolution at the end of this journey. In this alternate world (on the way to the afterlife?) the father is a folk hero, but still retains his disturbing hyper-sexuality. Overall, it is a meditation the ridiculous nature of masculinity as the generations seek to forgive each other. Not exactly a polished play, but a must for die-hard Pintér fans! October 3, 4

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. October 8

Szutyok [Muck]  In what is possibly Béla Pintér’s most heartbreaking production about the intolerable state of being unloved, a case of child adoption takes on mythic and nightmarish proportions. The cast is superb, embodying their roles lovingly. The piece incorporates elements of folk dance and musical theatre, while deploying an unsettling, potent blend of comedy and tragedy. Highly recommended! October 25, 26, 27

 

Belvárosi Színház (Downtown Theater)

 

Nóa II. rész [A Doll’s House, Part Two]  While the idea is not entirely original – after all, Elfriede Jelinek did it first – this sequel, set 20 years after the revolutionary door-slam in A Doll’s House, manages to be compelling, though independent of Ibsen’s groundbreaking work. These are interesting, articulate characters in a strange situation with intriguing reactions and thoughts to share. Isn’t that what theatre is all about? It also features a very strong cast overall. October 12, 13, 14, 24

 

Budapest Operetta Theatre

 

A chicagói hercengő [Duchess of Chicago]  This “lost” operetta by titan Imre Kálmán is a delightful piece of light entertainment with a paper-thin plot, catchy tunes, and lots of eye-catching costumes. The producers turn the romantic tale into a fable about cultural assimilation, complete with a happy ending. Perfect for a family outing or a treat for older relatives. October 13, 14

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 usual. 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 number that Dolhai performs with a chorus line of tipsy dance doubles), it nevertheless captures the blithe absurdity of this fun piece. October 17, 18, 19, 20

 

Centrál Színház (Central Theater)

 

Delila [Delilah]  The star-studded cast delivers a pitch-perfect rendition of this rarely seen piece by comic master Ferenc Molnár, but the material, in which a clever wife saves her husband from a greedy young temptress, is quite dated and corny. Recommended for those who want a trip back in theatre time. October 10, 16, 22, 27

 

József Attila Színház (Attila József Theater)

 

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. October 14, 24

 

Jurányi Inkubátorház (Jurányi Incubator House)

 

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. October 10, 25

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. October 13, 31

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! October 18

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. October 19

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! October 24

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! October 27

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. October 30

 

Karinthy Színház (Karinthy Theater)

 

Theatre at the Karinthy is definitely a 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. October 4, 6

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. October 14, 24

Degeneráció [D-Generation]  This simple, yet disarming slice-of-life comedy concerns the social and romantic lives of a bunch of partying college students in Budapest. Devoid of deep meaning, it still manages to be light years better than the prime-time television show Ejjel Nappal Budapest, carrying the subversive message that sometimes lack of communication saves relationships. October 14

 

Katona József Színház (József Katona Theater)

 

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. October 4, 5, 11

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) October 4, 6, 11

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. October 7, 17

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. October 13, 21, 31

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) October 13, 16, 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. (last performance) October 18

Ürgék [Blokes]  Mostly made up of Hungarian men’s stories from 1956 to the present, this production (assembled by Réka Pelsőczy and Tamara Török) offers little insight. The older generation is represented by László Szacsvay, János Bán, and Dénes Ujlaki (the latter’s delivery becoming somewhat predictable by the end). The younger generation, which feels less comfortable in the masculine roles they have inherited, is embodied by Bence Tasnédi and Zsolt Dér. Still, the tales are mostly superficial and materialistic. Male roles, in general, are never questioned or challenged. Rather, the older generation offers a lesson in calmly accepting the status quo. Anna Pálmai and Hanna Pálos are on hand to add decoration and contrast. After all, there are no men without women. October 19, 20, 30

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. October 22

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) October 23

 

Kolibri Színház (Kolibri Theater)

 

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. October 19, 20

 

Magyar Színház (Hungarian Theater)

 

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. (guest performance of the Radnóti Theatre) October 23

 

Mozsár Műhely (Mozsár Workshop)

 

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. October 7, 14

 

Nemzeti Színház (National Theater)

 

Isten Ostora [Scourge of God] What we experience seated onstage, on four sides of the deep acting area, is less of a theatrical performance and more of a live-action museum exhibit. It seems that director Attila Vidnyánszky wishes to weave a tapestry of movement and sound, and he is more successful on this occasion than in his production of The Passion of Christ from Csíksomlyó. Unfortunately, even from the best seat (on the edge of Sector C), it can be bloody hard to hear and understand. Lajos Ottó Horváth and Tibor Fehér manage good portrayals, as does soon-to-be 84 Gyula Bodrogi as the court jester. László Mátray is solid as Attila the Hun when he finally appears (after 80 minutes, at about the mid-point of the play). Most of the other actors are forced to simply shout their lines as best as they can. For example, Estilla Mikecz, who I believe has talent, is very one-note as Mikolt, the Goth princess who finds it in her heart to love the conquering Hun, even as she is duty-bound to assassinate him to avenge her slaughtered race. October 4

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! (studio space) October 5, 6

Félbevágott pipafüst [Interrupted Pipe Smoke]  Masterful raconteur András Berecz holds the audience spellbound with his 90-minute program of tales, folk songs, and music, mostly dealing with male-female relationships, stretching back to a paraphrase of the Garden of Eden. Be aware, though, that his Hungarian is extremely challenging for all but masters of the language to appreciate. (workshop space) October 26

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 Ottó 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. October 30, 31

 

Örkény István Theatre (István Örkény Theater)

 

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. October 1

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. October 2, 11, 18, 24

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) October 2

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. October 5, 25

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. October 9, 19

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. October 10, 20

Az üvegbúra [The Bell Jar]  Director Kristóf Widder brings Sylvia Plath’s cult novel to the stage intelligently on a hot set by Eszter Kálmán and with effective piano music by Árpád Kákonyi. (The sounds of the telephone are palpably threatening.) Bold movement theatre-inspired staging brightens up what is essentially a 90-minute monodrama featuring two assistants. Emőke Zsigmond commits fully to her role as Esther Greenwood, and Tünde Kókai slips in and out of multiple female characters with understated grace. Béla Dóra’s characterizations need more variety. I found him too comic as Esther’s fiancé Buddy, but that may simply be the director’s interpretation. Also not quite measuring up are the lighting effects by Richárd Kehi, which are only intermittently inspired. Young dramaturge Sára Gábor should also pay attention that if Esther’s loss of virginity is too positive (and not comic-grotesque, as it was in the novel), it sends the message that lack of “normal” hetero sex leads to lesbianism, madness, and suicide. Overall, a good show! (studio space) October 10, 19, 29

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. October 12, 27

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. October 14, 28

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) October 15, 25, 30

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. October 16

 

Pesti Színház (Pesti Theater)

 

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. October 6

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. October 25

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. October 28

 

Radnóti Színház (Radnóti Theater)

 

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. October 5, 11, 30

 

Rózsavölgyi Szalon (Rose Valley Salon)

 

Audience members, mostly older or upwardly-mobile, happily throw down 5,000 forints per ticket and then even more on pricey drinks and snacks for the patina of class in this venue on the upper floor of the Rózsavölgyi Music Store. This is buffet theatre, and not exactly edgy. Rather, the vibe is intimate and safe.

Rosmersholm [Rosmer Manor]  This staging of Ibsen’s masterpiece of political reform, stern morality, and wild romanticism is strictly by the book. Béla Fesztbaum and Annamária Láng get to showcase their unique chemistry (last brilliantly on display as kissing cousins in Vígszínház’s production of August: Osage County from 2009) with solid support from József Gabronka, Vince Zrinyi-Gál, and Andor Lukáts. (I’ve missed you, Andor!) Still, Béla seems overstretched as both star and director. The production lacks a visual character, and a model of the house (tossed in just before the last act) is sadly un-integrated. Alas, Erzsébet Kútvölgyi badly fumbles the genre-bending ending, which has the potential of transforming the melodrama into an eerie ghost story. October 14, 15, 21

 

RS9 Színház (RS9 Theater)

 

Budapest’s nitty-gritty home for fringe and independent theatre is right in the center of town, either in the basement space (with accompanying bar) at 9 Rumbach Sebestyén Street or in the Vállai Kert space [named after the late actor Péter Vállai] just across the road.

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. October 2

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. October 6, 20

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. October 14

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). October 27

 

Spirit Színház (Spirit Theater)

 

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 space 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. October 13

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. October 27

 

Stúdió K (Studio 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. October 31

 

Szkéné Színház (Szkéné Theater)

 

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). October 1 

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. October 5

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. October 8, 9, 10, 11

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. October 12, 13, 14

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. October 19

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. October 21

42. hét [42nd Week] When widow and obstetrician Dr. Imola Virágvári (Eszter Csakányi) falls for TV star László Vargyas (Szabolcs Thuróczy), 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! October 28, 29

 

Trafó House of Contemporary Arts

 

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! October 30

 

Turay Ida Színház (Ida Turay Theater)

 

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. October 13

 

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. October 11, 31

 

Vígszínház (Comedy Theater)

 

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. October 6, 24

A Pál utcai fiúk [The Paul Street Boys]  It is hard to get tickets for the 2016 musical adaptation of Ferenc Molnár’s classic children’s novel, which is a lighthearted take on a two rival gangs and their battle for possession of a splendid lot, and no wonder! The cast is spirited, the direction is sharp, and the music is catchy without being disturbingly thin (which is the case for most modern musicals). The climactic stand-off is staged very symbolically before the tear-jerking finish: the martyrdom of Ernest Nemecsek for what proves to be a meaningless cause. Depressing allegory? Perhaps, but integral to the Hungarian psyche. October 18, 27, 28

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) October 19

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. October 31

 

See you at the theatre!

 

 

 

 

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