GUIDE TO PERFORMANCES IN DECEMBER 2018

 

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The end of another year, and it seems to approach at break-neck speed. If you can take time out of the office parties, last-minute get-togethers, and feverish holiday preparations, here are some of your theatrical entertainment options.

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.

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. December 1

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 viewers’ nerves to the breaking point. Plus brilliant gender-bending performances by Eszter Csakányi and Angéla Stefanovics. Highly recommended! December 2, 3

Chicago  Don’t expect much glitz and glamour from director Alföldi’s bargain-basement revival of this famous, but still unsettling Kander-Ebb-Fosse musical. Much of the humor is lost in translation, especially in the “Roxy’ and “Six Merry Murderesses” numbers. Still, it features bold performances by leads Eliza Sodró, Nóra Parti, and Balázs Mihályfi. Also, the provocative ending may just be worth the 3-hour running time. December 4, 5, 31

A soha vissza nem terő [The Never to Return]  Belonging to that category of Béla Pintér pieces portraying hapless characters on a doomed mission, this play tackles themes of unrequited love, betrayal, and cultural clashes. The language and staging is more explicit than usual, but despite energetic performances and eye-candy effects, this outing seems slighter than his other efforts. Recommended for confirmed Pintérites! December 29

 

Budapest Bábszínház (Puppet Theater)

 

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! December 1

 

Belvárosi Színház (Downtown Theater)

 

Nóra II. rész [A Doll’s House, Part Two]  While the idea behind Lucas Hnath’s 2017 play 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. December 1, 29

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. December 10

 

Latinovits Theater in Budaörs

 

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 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. December 21

For a detailed review, see the related article.

 

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. December 7, 11, 13, 29

 

Erkel Színház (Erkel Theater)

 

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 Nyugat lánya [The Girl of the Golden West]  Don’t expect much Wild West in the Erkel’s new production. Russian director Vasily Barkhatov has envisioned a pipe commune filled with a diverse mix of immigrants and itinerant workers. Minnie, the heroine, appears as a dowdy aid worker. For the first two acts, the concept works. The orchestra plays brilliantly, and the male chorus is good; only the static set hinders the ensemble acting, and some of the blocking is clunky, as are the spoken bits. Then, in act three, all logic goes out the window, which is frustrating. Puccini was not only a master composer, but a master dramaturge. The production would have been much more successful if the producers had remained true to the original. This opera is overdue for reappraisal. It is just as tear-jerking as Puccini’s “classics,” the music is glorious, and it is more uplifting than his other works, expressing how Mankind is capable of mercy and how redemption is always possible. (As for the cast, Szilvia Rálik is more credible as Minnie than Éva Bátori. Gaston Rivero may overact at times, but he is vocally much stronger than Gergely Boncsér in the role of Dick Johnson. Both Csaba Szegedi and Florin Estefan are decent as Sheriff Rance.). December 1, 4, 6, 9, 13, 16

Bohémélet [La Bohème]  This traditional staging of Puccini’s sure-fire tear-jerker serves up exactly what you would expect with no surprises – an appropriately shoddy garret for the bachelor artists and a predictably cluttered street scene to replicate the Parisian café milieu. Still, if you do not like modern tinkering with the classics, this is a safe entertainment bet. December 8, 15, 21, 23, 25, 27

A denevér [Die Fledermaus]  What a great way to ring in the New Year, you might think, with Johann Strauss, Jr.’s elegant Viennese opera. Don’t fall for the trap! The lifeless direction by Miklós Szinetár sucks every iota of life out of the sparkling piece. The result is flat champagne left out overnight during a rainstorm. December 31

 

Hatszín Teatrum

 

Varsói melódia [Warsaw Melody]  In this two-character piece, Kátya Tompos and Bálint Adorjáni are very attractive as the Polish-Russian couple less crossed by fate than inconvenienced by bad timing. Nevertheless, they lack the characterization to bring these sketchy scenes, spanning two decades, to life. December 11, 19, 20

 

József Attila Színház (Attila József Theater)

 

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) December 20, 30

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 of 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. December 21

For a detailed review, read the related article.

 

Jurányi Inkubátorház (Jurányi Incubator House)

 

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. December 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 life. Through the magic of theatre, she becomes a woman before our very eyes. December 6

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. December 9

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! December 9

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! December 10

For a detailed review, read the related article.

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! December 12

 

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.

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. December 11

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. December 16, 30

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. December 29

 

Katona József Színház (József Katona Theater)

 

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. December 5, 11

For a detailed review, read the related article.

Pali  A good example of verbatim theatre, actress Zsófia Számosi deeply internalizes the role of Mrs. Paul Maléter – wife of the man who accidentally became a leader of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, only to be arrested and executed by the returning Soviets – and does not beak character under any circumstances. Her story is fascinating, very moving at times, but without conflict. While it is a fascinating history lesson and character study, it is not drama, only story-telling. Also, the back projections are unnecessary and distracting. (basement space) December 5, 11

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) December 6, 27

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. December 8, 9, 31

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) December 8

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) December 26

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. December 27, 28

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. 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. December 31

 

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. December 7, 8

 

MU Színház (MU Theater)

 

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. December 19

 

Nemzeti Színház (National Theater)

 

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. December 8, 9

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. December 13

Az ember tragédiája [The Tragedy of Man]  If you are tempted to see this juggernaut of Hungarian literature, keep in mind that it is four hours and staged in the round. The best seats are onstage, alongside of the acting area. Vidnyánszky is not only determined to give us a believer’s “family-focused” take on the sprawling classic, but also to extend his experimentation in immersive theatre – suspending the conventions of time, space, and now character. Previous outings in this format have proven difficult to hear, so important lines are shouted four times by different actors. Expelled from the Garden of Eden, Adam follows Lucifer (played by five actors) through various eras in Mankind’s history and beyond. Sándor Berettyán plays most of Adam’s incarnations, but endows them with very little personality. Eszter Ács has a lighter load and is more than capable of playing all the Eves. Auguszta Tóth and Mari Nagy harness the most stage presence, while Ádám Schnell and Tibor Fehér swish it up (at least on the night I saw it). The resulting spectacle is worth a look, but ill suited to bring out the emotional and philosophical complexities of the work. December 21, 22, 27

 

Ódry Színpad (Ódry Stage)

 

A Nyíregyháza utca [Nyíregyháza Street]  A group of Hungarian sex workers are abandoned by their pimp in Amsterdam, failed by a buffoonish aid organization, and fall into the hands of a mad madam who has them doing performance art in public. Eszter Anna Szilágyi’s exposé drama is eye-popping, but twice as long as it should be. (Why toss in Verdi’s gypsy chorus from La Traviata when there was a better musical number with original Hungarian lyrics towards the beginning?) Despite strong, spirited, talented performances, the play mystifies more than it enlightens. December 16

 

Örkény István Theatre (István Örkény Theater)

 

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. December 1

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) December 1, 20

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. December 6

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. December 7

For a detailed review, see the related article.

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) December 7, 27

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. December 8

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. December 18

For a detailed review, see the related article.

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) December 18

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. December 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. December 22, 25

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. December 27, 31

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. December 28

For a detailed review, see the related article.

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. December 30

 

Pesti Színház (Pesti Theater)

 

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. December 2, 30

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 winning and entertaining fashion. Despite his abundant charm, however, the language remains unyieldingly old-fashioned and poetic – hence, very difficult to understand. December 5, 6

Biborsziget [The Purple Island]  Mihail Bulgakov’s little-seen backstage farce depicts a mammoth theater’s last desperate struggles for survival, staging on a zero budget a brand new spectacle, fresh from the pen of an ambitious young writer. But – oh, no – here comes the State Censor! Although actor-cum-director Géza D. Hegedűs brings out a mere fraction of the potential comedy in this multi-layered opus (which threatens to burst the boundaries of the small Pesti stage), he clearly understands the humor and the message; so we can appreciate and savor this delightful, thought-provoking piece. Long live Purple Island! December 7, 18, 20

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. December 19

For a detailed review, see the relate article.

 

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. December 11, 27

 

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. December 11

 

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.

A 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). December 5

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. December 8

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. December 12

Egy doktorkisasszony napójegyzetei [A Young Woman Doctor’s Diary Entries]  What is brilliant in this adaptation is the original work by Milán Füst, whose rendering of infinitely complicated human relationships practically defies the limits of the theatrical medium. While the actors wholeheartedly throw themselves into the World War I setting, the end result can be baffling for audience members. Kati Lábán’s literary taste is exquisite, but her direction is dismayingly mechanical and uninspired on this occasion. December 16

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. December 19

 

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. December 3, 17

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. December 15

 

Stúdió K (Studio K)

 

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. December 2, 30

 

Szkéné Színház (Szkéné Theater)

 

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. December 7

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 II 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. December 9

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. December 18, 19, 20, 21

 

Trafó House of Contemporary Arts

 

Pirkad [Dawn]  Two completely nude male-female couples perform Adrienn Hód’s roughly 50 minutes of choreography, building to a shuddering climax before lapsing into catatonic calm. A must-see for fans of modern dance, but absolutely inappropriate for a fist date! December 3

Kálvária lakópark  [Calvary Housing Estate]  To be honest, I do not completely understand Rozi Székely's first staged work. Still, it has a unique way of see-sawing between naturalism and absurdity, and it shows plenty of promise. When the heroine (Niké Kurta) inherits an apartment from her estranged father, who died under strange circumstances, she welcomes it as a chance for freedom, but then her mother (Júlia Nyakó) plans to invade the flat with her enigmatic lover (Kálmán Varju). The humor is off-beat, and the best at delivering it is the playwright herself, who appears briefly in the first scene. Overall, Kálmán Varju proves the best at inhabiting this uncannily funny, disturbing, and memorable world. December 5

 

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. December 29

 

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. December 16

For a detailed review, see the related article.

 

Vígszínház (Comedy Theater)

 

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. December 2, 6, 16, 19, 25, 26, 29, 30, 31

A diktátor [The Dictator]  Adapting Charlie Chaplin’s classic film may seem like a foolhardy undertaking, but for most of the first half, Enikő Eszenyi gets it right. The World War I portion is dynamite with a fantastic flying plane sequence. Nonetheless, despite several good performances (by József Wunderlich, Csenge Szilágyi, Dániel Király, and Szonja Rudolf), the second half loses steam with too many gags that do not translate well to the stage. Instead of making a point with the conclusion, the production leaves us hanging with no resolution, Central European-style. December 7, 18, 20

A vándorkutya [Wander Dog]  Hovering on a scale of absurdity somewhere between The Bald Soprano and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, this high-concept outing by Andrea Pass does not delve too deeply into character. Rather, it flirts with Hitchcock tropes to dissect relationships that are outwardly happy, but inwardly miserable. Judit Halász is strong as the senile mother, while Renáta Tar and Zoltán Karácsonyi are delightfully over-the-top. December 18, 29

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. December 21

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) December 27

Máglya [The Pyre]  The best part of this stage adaptation of György Dragomán’s work is Olaf Altmann’s simple set, which is reminiscent of a snowy field, a children’s sandbox, and a topographical map – all at first sight. Yet, the direction by Armin Petras is clever without being brilliant. The appealing young actresses (Janka Kopek and Patricia Puzsa) are good without being great. The story of an orphaned girl adopted by her estranged grandmother in Transylvania, following the revolution in 1989, culminates in a scene of epic drama, but it is without catharsis. To borrow the title of a Béla Pintér play, the overall effect is dazzling mediocre. (studio space) December 30

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