GUIDE TO PERFORMANCES IN JANUARY 2019

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I apologize for my tardiness. Keeping up with the Budapest theatre scene seems like an impossible task for just one individual. If you would like to review a show for the blog, please contact me at utgardsloki@gmail.com. Changes to the theatre subsidy law (also know as the TAO) may have an irrevocable impact in the upcoming year. As we await developments, here are your theatre options in January 2019.

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.

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. January 2, 3, 4, 5

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! January 7, 8

Kaiser TV, Ungarn  Time travel and a mythical 19th-century television station are just a couple of the fantastic premises on which this tale is based, hinging on the possibly reversible outcome of a battle in the Revolution of 1848. This could be Béla Pintér’s most feel-good show. (He and Szabolcs Thuróczy are delightful as Sándor Petőfi and Lajos Kossuth, respectively.) Still, the story is definitely by Hungarians for Hungarians. January 25, 26

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! January 28

 

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 seventh-grader 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! January 28, 31

  

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. January 12, 25

Vőlegény [The Bridegroom]  Although Ernő Szép’s play is a provocative treat from the 1920s, in which a struggling lower middle-class family is happy to prostitute their youngest daughter if the financial rewards are adequate, the cast fails to evoke a convincing picture of everyday life in the crowded flat. Tamás Kimmel-Szabó is splendid in the title role. Patricia Kovács is adequate. With time, György Gazsó and Katlin Takács may strike the right balance as the young girl’s parents. The double seduction scene in the second act is the highlight, but all too often, director Eszter Novák replaces comedy with onstage busy-ness. January 16

 

Budaörsi Latinovits Színház (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. January 16

For a detailed review, click here.

 

Budapest Operetta Theater

 

A kék madár [Blue Bird]  The English-speaking world is less aware of Maeterlinck’s symbolist play for children; and this musical adaptation, staged in the tiny and ornate Imre Kálmán Teátrum beside the Operetta (entrance through the buffet), would seem to be the perfect opportunity to experience it. Two young actors performed the first number (as siblings Tytyl and Mytyl) with impressive flair. Overall, the performers seemed keen, but the music quickly became annoyingly repetitive. As far as I could tell, the youthful audience was impressed, but this quest for happiness is far too allegorical. In short, it was over my head. January 20, 25, 27

 

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. January 3, 20, 21, 30

 

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. Practically all shows feature English titles.

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. January 2, 3, 5

Nabucco  Awkward staging and an indescribable directorial concept mar this recent production of Verdi’s classic opera. Get a seat in the balcony if you want to see Nabucco’s grand entrance in the first act. Also, why is everyone holding large plaster amphorae throughout the Chorus of Hebrew Slaves? Musically, though, Szilvia Rálik and Alexandru Agache are splendid as Abigail and Nabucco, respectively. January 4, 6, 11, 13

Hugenották [Les Hugenots]  This French grand opera does not pick up speed until the second half of the third act, but then it is a highly engaging account of how blind intolerance among Catholics and Protestants led to the Saint Bartholomew’s Massacre of 1572. The cast this month appears fairly strong, and Yvette Alida Kovács deserves special praise for the lovely and numerous costumes. January 23, 25, 27, 31

For a detailed review, click here.

 

Fészek Klub (Nest Club)

 

17 hattyúk [17 Swans] In this one-woman show based on Péter Esterházy’s tale of a poor Roma cleaning girl, whisked off her feet by a dashing and married businessman, only to dabble in lesbianism, prostitution, and murder before finding peace, the text is a kaleidoscopic mish-mash of modern slang, archaic forms, and neologisms that draws unfavorable comparisons to James Joyce. Yet, the staging is simple and effective. Actress Tünde Majsai-Nyilas delivers this monstrous monologue naturally while holding our attention for 90 minutes – surely a testament to her uncommon talent. January 24

For a detailed review, click here.

 

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. January 3, 14

 

Játékszín (Play Stage)

 

Menopauza [Menopause]  The actresses have the audience in stitches during this light piece about four mature women who meet and bond during a shopping spree at Bloomingdale’s, where scenes of broad comedy are interspersed with parodies of universally recognized songs. Judit Hernádi and Andrea Szulák bring the star power, and Erika Náray has a great singing voice. Yet, why did they keep those outdated stereotypes, not to mention the set-up, which does not reflect lives of most modern Hungarian women? January 4, 7, 8, 9, 10, 16

 

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) January 12, 21

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. January 14

For a detailed review, click here. 

 

Jurányi Inkubátorház (Jurányi Incubator House)

 

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. January 6

Sociopoly  Don’t let language fears stop you from playing this interactive board game, acting as a member of one of four families trying to live out one month in the poorest county of Hungary. The situations are clear. Take a back seat and enjoy this one-of-a-kind, eye-opening experience. English version also available. A must-try! January 7, 22

A csemegepultos naplója [Deli Counter Diaries]  The novel by Márton Gerlóczy receives a sterling stage adaptation courtesy of dramaturge Ildikó Lőkös, razor-sharp direction by Pál Göttinger, and a spirited performance by András Ötvös. At 80 minutes, it does not strain one’s patience, and even if you don’t understand much of the text, Mr. Ötvös’s presence is riveting. January 8, 20

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. January 13, 24

A Pitbull Cselekedetei [Acts of the Pit Bull]  The play itself by Péter Kárpáti is something of a metaphysical adventure, which begins with a modest Budapest couple’s moral dilemma, then breaks the fourth wall, before bending the laws of time and space. The production is remarkable for its top-notch cast: Angela Stefanovics, Zola Szabó, Natasa Stork, Zsuzsa Lőrincz, and the appropriately superhuman Zsolt Nagy. January 22

Bebújós [Snuggle in]  When the children’s games at nursery school take on a sexual nature, the parents start hysterically pointing fingers, and there are plenty of red herrings to keep the audience guessing. Nearly all the actors play one parent and their respective child, so it is clear how behavior and traits are passed along. Another good show by Andrea Pass! January 29

 

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.

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. January 13, 15

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. January 22

Klotild néni [Aunt Klotild]  Gábor Vaszary’s three-act farce is a classic example of cabaret theatre, but by English standards, it qualifies as an old chestnut. For this musty humor to appeal to you, you must have a decidedly old-fashioned funny bone. January 24

Bunbury [The Importance of Being Ernest]  This staging of Oscar Wilde’s classic is strictly by-the-book, ignoring the gay subtext of the original. Still, most of the humor seems to fly over the Hungarian audience’s heads. The costumes are attractive, as are the actors, particularly Zalán Makranczi as John Worthing and Ildikó Tornyi as Gwendolen Fairfax. January 27

 

Katona József Színház (József Katona Theater)

 

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) January 8, 17, 18, 19

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. January 9, 26, 27

For a detailed review, click here.

Bihari  This biographical drama about an intellectual blackmailed into becoming a spy under the Communist regime on account of his homosexuality is not well executed. There are too many pointless conversations and go-nowhere scenes. Despite a committed cast, it is difficult to understand the exact repercussions of the anti-hero’s actions. By the end, he is reduced to a quivering mass of self-loathing. “I’m a shit,” he says. Agreed. (basement space) January 14, 27

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. January 15, 16, 28

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 The Champion. 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. January 17, 18, 19

Pali  In a prime example of verbatim theatre, actress Zsófia Számosi deeply internalizes the role of Mrs. Paul Maléter – wife of the man who accidently became a leader of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, only to be arrested and executed by the returning Soviets. She does not beak character under any circumstances. Her story is fascinating and very moving at times, but without conflict. It is a fascinating history lesson and character study, but not drama, only story-telling. Also, the back projections are unnecessary and distracting. (basement space) January 18, 31

Elnöknők [Leading Ladies]  This absurd piece by Werner Schwab premiered in 1996 and survives to this day thanks to sublimely grotesque performances by Judit Pogány, Ági Szirtes, and Eszter Csakányi. The piece itself, however, is little more than an ad hoc collection of shocking bits and set pieces. (studio space) January 30

 

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. January 14

 

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. January 29

 

Nemzeti Színház (National Theater)

 

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. Director Vidnyánszky, Sr. 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. January 5, 6, 7, 20, 21

Shakespeare Összes Rövidítve (SÖR) [The Complete Works of Shakespeare]  This crowd-pleaser premiered in New York around 2000, then turned up in Budapest shortly afterwards. It has been packing audiences in for some 15 years now thanks to the contagious antics of the three-member Madhouse troupe, delivering a delightful, and ultimately respectful, romp through classic literature. In English! (workshop space) January 11, 12

Csíksomlyói passió [Passion of Christ from Csíksomlyó]  The 18th-century Hungarian re-interpretation of the Biblical story seems made for the National, but then there is a confusing clash of styles. Director Attila Vidnyánszky erects an alternate seating area to bring the spectators closer to the action. A live ensemble transports us to a small village square where the Passion of Christ will be performed. Then, the loud canned music and bombastic special effects begin, together with repetitive stage gestures that make it seem like a three-hour movie trailer. Nándor Berettyán brings a peculiar cluelessness to the role of the Messiah, as though the other villagers pushed him onto the scene as a last-minute substitute. Meanwhile, narrator and raconteur András Berecz strives mightily to bridge the gap between the professional actors and the folk dancers who embody the villagers and the vox populi, but this is a production divided against itself. January 15

Éden földön [Eden on Earth]  The legend of Istók Hany is Hungary’s answer to L’enfant sauvage. Supposedly, the boy, who had grown up in the wild, was found by fisherman and brought to the royal court in 1749. Eventually, though, he fled back into the wilderness. In this dramatization, he simply finds the civilized world, with its superficial manners and pedantic ways, too baffling. The nearly two-hour running time is filled out with stunning costumes (especially in the wilderness scenes), dancing, and catchy, simplistic tunes courtesy of Tamás Szarka (front-man of the popular group Ghymes).The show is perfect for children, but liable to irritate adults with its lack of content. January 19

Othello  Director Csaba Kiss begins with a backstage scene in a make-up chair to justify actor Lajos Ottó Horváth’s “choice” to play the Moor with only one black glove to signal, at strategic times, the hero’s racial identity. This first appearance, half naked, tends to undermine his stature as a heroic warrior. It also highlights the age gap with his co-star, Eszter Ács as Desdemona. The duo has chemistry and earnest emotion in the finale, but the evening as a whole falls flat. They receive good support from Dénes Farkas (as Iago) and Andrea Söptei (as Emilia). Even Kinga Katona provides a solid Bianca. Still, Mari Nagy is miscast as Brabantina (here Desdemona’s mother), and Sebestyén László Szabó is completely out of his depth as the Rodrigo. Tension is deflated again and again, and the spectacle of Shakespeare’s Venice and Cyprus is lackluster, to put it kindly. January 19, 24

 

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. January 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. January 3, 23

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. January 4, 15

Diggerdrájver [Digger Driver]  Pulled from an actual blog, the modern-day experiences of a blue-collar worker who leaves Hungary with his second wife and son for the promise of a better life in London could not be more topical. The nearly two hours of material is delivered in a monologue with disarming credibility by the talented actor Attila Epres. Foreigners may be puzzled, though, by the morose mood at the end. From our point of view, this is a success story. What is there to cry about? (studio space) January 4, 13, 23

József és a testvérei [Joseph and his Brothers]  Dramaturge Ildikó Gáspár and director Tamás Ascher go in search of the Great Narrative, staging Thomas Mann’s 1,500-page novel, which covers Chapters 27-50 of Genesis. With slightly less than 20 actors playing the numerous roles, you will find yourself consulting the family tree in the program again and again during the nearly five-hour running time. Given the bare-bones set, we get the impression of a low-budget, lengthy Sunday school pageant with too few, albeit uncommonly talented, performers. January 6, 20

For a detailed review, click here. 

Patika [Pharmacy]  Szép Ernő’s surreal pastoral comedy receives a thought-provoking overhaul courtesy of the Mohácsi brothers (János as director and István as dramaturge), including some material unthinkable in this one-hundred-year-old text. While the protagonist is still the pharmacist’s apprentice Kálmán (played adequately by Máté Novkov, enjoying his first meaty role at the Örkény), additional emphasis is placed on the sad fate of the pharmacist’s wife (skillfully embodied by Réka Tenki). Nonetheless, István Znamenák still steals the second act with his tragicomic-pathetic rant as the drunken, jealous pharmacist. Plus, an additional coda recasts the tiny servant role of Kati (Emőke Zsigmond) not as a life-destroying temptress, but the unsung heroine of her own cyclical tragedy. Five guest artists provide some new faces in the ensemble. I particularly liked László Felhőfi-Kiss as the professor and Árpád Némedi as the gypsy musician. The live music is also effective. Beware, though, that the running time is well over three hours. January 7, 11, 27, 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. January 8, 31

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) January 8, 18, 22, 29

I. Henrik I-II. [Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2] An intelligent précis of this problematic and sprawling history play by Shakespeare. No one turns out to be a hero, and with the actors constantly doubling, it sometimes seems as if the lower class is masquerading as the nobles (or vice versa). It is best to go in knowing the play, since the staging is quite minimal. January 9, 12

For a detailed review, click here.

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. January 10

For a detailed review, click here.

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) January 21

Anyám tyúkja (2.) [Mother’s Hen, Part 2]  With the second installment of their poetry program, director Pál Mácsai broadens the net, selecting a wider range of poems that are lesser known and cover more adult themes. The journey is deeper, but thematically arranged as the poems deal with questions of identity, existence, family life, and even sexuality. Nearly every performer, seasoned veterans and talented newcomers alike, has a shining moment. January 24

Macskajáték [Cat’s Game]  For her staging of Örkény István’s popular play, Ildikó Gáspár goes back to the original novel. This love triangle among 60-somethings, charting the decline in the fortunes of two sisters from a well-to-do family, is well told. The Kádár-era milieu is captured with impeccably chosen costumes and props, and Éva Kerekes is a revelation as the mousey neighbor Egerke. That said, the staging can be static, and the lengthy monologues in the second half are not easy to follow without some knowledge of Hungarian. January 29

 

Pesti Színház (Pesti Theater)

 

John Gabriel Borkman  A must-see for Ibsen fans, this late pay shows him experimenting with allegory and a more symbolist style. What occurs onstage is mostly the consequence of actions taken 10 and 18 years before the plot. On this occasion, Péter Valló’s direction is quite capable, but occasionally seems tired and uninspired. In the larger-than-life lead roles, Géza D. Hegedűs and Enikő Börcsök both shine. Barbara Hegyi is miscast (or misdirected) as Borkman’s embittered wife. Her character could be far more grotesque. Miklós H. Vecsei does well in his smaller role as the defiant son. January 4, 5, 13, 19, 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. January 7, 24, 29

For a detailed review, click here.

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! January 11, 21, 22, 27

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 winning and entertaining fashion. Despite his abundant charm, however, the language remains unyieldingly old-fashioned and poetic – hence, very difficult to understand. January 18, 20

Mikve  Stick around for the second half of this contemporary Israeli play about a traditional bath facility for pious Jewish women. You may expect it to be a typical women’s drama with everyone’s secrets revealed and everyone crying on each other’s shoulders by the end, but the drama takes a much more radical turn as the community of women from the mikve band together to defy society. It boasts a fine ensemble cast with great performances all around. Barbara Hegyi, in particular, shows uncommon fire in the role of an abused wife. January 23

 

Pinceszínház (Cellar Theater)

 

A Herner Ferike faterja [Frankie Herner’s Father]  What was Enikő Börcsök thinking when she directed this turkey of a play? The only thing I can complement is the set (by József Tóth), which features flats outfitted with three-dimensional details, sometimes wildly out of proportion. Playwright János Hay uses mostly the same characters from his breakthrough work Kid Géza, but here the backwater hicks are mostly mocked for their manifold vices. The dialogue, with its incessant stalling and pseudo-profundities, sounds like bad David Mamet. Plus, the scenes of domestic violence are jarring in a comedy, even a poor and offensive one. The experience left me feeling physically ill. January 10, 24

A Gézagyerek [Kid Géza]  János Hay’s first successful play is probably his best, with a cast of well-intentioned quarry workers as heroes and Géza, the autistic safety inspector sitting in high crane, as an unlikely symbol of God. The production here has plenty of good actors, but the writing is heavy-handed at times. The lack of vision and nondescript set hardly help. Still, it is a decent humanist tragicomedy with an impressively focused performance by Géza Takács (as Géza) and a touching portrayal of his mother by the wondrous Enikő Börcsök. January 13, 29

 

Radnóti Színház (Radnóti Theater)

 

10  Both thematically and structurally reminiscent of Krzystof Kieślowski’s Dekalog, Csaba Székely’s new play is structured around the interlocking tales of ten residents at the Hope Housing Estate, each of whom represents one of the ten commandments that they break. Who are these characters? A saintly young man with intellectual disabilities, a man with body dysmorphic disorder, an incest survivor-turned-prostitute (the only character identified as Roma), a workaholic female head doctor, a soldier in Afghanistan with abandonment issues, and a bored trophy wife, among others. The writing can be heavy-handed, and some actors fall into the trap of overacting. Others have moments of brilliance. Yet, the duration is well over three hours, and the last hour is spent tying up plot threads. A recurring theme is emotional blindness, most obvious in the case of a narcissistic paintress who can see others’ auras, but is insensitive to their pain. Blocks of assisted storytelling are separated by interludes wherein the cast sings the Biblical text in a dead language. This is most powerful when the music sounds like modern gospel. Transylvanian director Aba Sebestyén uses plenty of face-forward and two hand-held cameras to provide (occasionally effective) live visual effects, but this technique already seems old hat. January 8, 9, 19, 28

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. January 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. January 4

 

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.

Végkép [Parting Shot]  A divorced couple reunites after 10 years to arrange the sale of their jointly-owned property and are surprised to meet each other’s new lover. Director Rita Csáki adapted the show from a German movie, which we can feel. At times, it is a very intimate theatre experience, but there is a lack of focus and tension. Overall, the actresses prove better than the actors at fleshing out their roles. January 9, 28

Folyóügy [Case in Progress]  A clever set and lively stage movement brighten up Braun Barna’s cabaret-like vignettes of Hungarian reality. There are plenty of laughs of recognition, not a terrible amount of depth, and at least one troubling stereotype. Stand-outs in the cast are Katalin Merai and Gábor Jaszberényi. January 11, 26

Egy doktorkisasszony napójegyzetei [A Young Woman Doctor’s Diary Entries]  What is brilliant in this adaptation is the original work by Milán Füst, whose infinitely complicated human relations practically defy the limits of the theatrical medium. While the actors wholeheartedly throw themselves into the First World War setting, the end result can be baffling for audience members. Kati Lábán’s literary taste is exquisite, but her direction is dismayingly flat and mechanical on this occasion. January 13, 20

De mi lett a nővel? [But What Became of the Woman?]  Much in the style of Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged), three Hungarian actors romp their way through nine related short stories by Chekhov. Their spirit is infectious, and they capture the master’s bizarre 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. January 14

Woyzeck  The Anyaszínház Company makes some bold moves with Büchner’s chilling, disturbing, unfinished classic, and part of the thrill is watching how many of their gambles pay off. The eye-popping direction makes up for some of the flat acting. January 24

Többszörös orgazmus [Multiple Orgasms]  In this long-standing crowd-pleaser by the Anarchista Company, director Ferenc Sebő, Jr., takes an instructional guidebook to the world of sexual swingers and develops a series of wild sketches with his fine ensemble of very game actors. You may not approve of the lifestyle on display or buy into the swinger philosophy, but you are guaranteed some hearty belly laughs. January 29

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). January 31

 

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. January 25

For a detailed review, click here. 

A rettentő görög hős [The Fearsome Greek Hero]  Stúdió K has a long tradition of brilliant puppet shows for children, and this rendering of the exploits of Theseus is certainly one of them. It is a great introduction to these tales from Greek mythology, and young theatergoers relish the scenes of stylized violence. January 26

 

Szkéné Színház (Szkéné Theater)

 

A sütemények királynője [The Queen of Cakes]  Mostly one concentrated scene of domestic misery. Béla Pintér tackles the topic of child neglect and abuse like no other Hungarian playwright, also turning in a brave performance as the tyrannical father. The cast is solid, and the effect is brutal, although the ending is too rushed. January 3, 4, 5

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 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. January 11

Öröm és boldogság [Joy and Happiness]  Leaving behind the naturalism he used in his trilogy: Mine Flower / Mine Blindness / Mine Water, playwright Csaba Székely seeks to explore the lives of gays and lesbians in Transylvania. Still, the picture he paints is far from comprehensive, and the layers of irony further alienate us from the characters. Members of the new 3G Theatre Company from Marosvásárhely throw themselves into the project with gusto, and particularly good is Levente Orbán in the role of a sexually ambiguous pub owner. With English titles! Guest performance from Transylvania. January 12

I. Erzsébet [Elizabeth I]  Modern English playwright Paul Foster revisits the history books and gives us a burlesque-style romp, providing some delightful off-the-wall sketches, but also some troubling stereotypes and a heavy-handed conclusion (warning us of the evils and potential resurgence of Fascism). Although he was acclaimed for his lead role in drag, I found Tamás Fodor’s performance overrated. Far more entertaining were Péter Bercsényi (as Mary Queen of Scots) and Gergő Kaszás (as Catherine de Medici). January 20

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. 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. January 23, 24

 

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! January 9

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 odd 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, though, Kálmán Varju proves the best at inhabiting this uncannily funny, disturbing, and memorable world. January 28

  

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. 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. January 11

Janika [Little Johnny]  A middle-age Budapest diva is surprised by the director lover who jilted her 14 years before, just as she is preparing for a pant’s role, and she convinces him that she herself is their illegitimate child, paving the way for more complications. If you find Neil Simon too heavy and thought-provoking, Little Johnny may be just right for you. There is plenty of broad humor and ham acting without one moment of truth. January 22

 

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. January 12

For a detailed review, click here.

 

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 distressingly 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. January 2, 9, 15, 20, 23, 29

A léggömb elrepül [The Balloon Flies Away]  Promising a carefree bill of prose, poetry, and songs by beloved early 20th-century writer Dezső Kosztolányi, this one-man-show does not disappoint us. It may take a strong command of Hungarian to understand the text, but as Béla Festbaum sings and narrates his way through the material, you know you are in the hands of a pro. A thoroughly charming event! (studio space) January 6, 24

A diktátor [The Dictator] Adapting Charlie Chaplin’s classic film may seem like a foolhardy undertaking, but for most of the first half, director Enikő Eszenyi gets it right. The First World War 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. January 10, 11, 16, 21, 22, 24, 26, 27

Játék a kastélyban [The Play’s the Thing]  This classic meta-theatre exercise by Ferenc Molnár is a gem, but by all means, avoid the current production in which the uneven cast tends to fumble the comedy. The leading role of Turai, the mastermind playwright, can be a tour de force for an actor, but Miklós Benedek mostly mumbles his way through it. January 12

Bűn és bűnhődés [Crime and Punishment]  Director Michal Dočekal creates a unified look and a clever “crime scene” conceit for this intelligent précis of Dostoevsky’s classic novel, but practically no one in the talented cast can live up to the larger-then-life characters (possible exceptions being Zoltán Karácsonyi as Svidrigailov and Miklós H. Vecsei in his one-minute appearance as Mikolka). András Stohl evokes the Columbo side of committed police inspector Porfiry’s personality, but fails to bring out the character’s transcendent nature. Rather than soar to redemptive heights, this production remains earthbound. January 18

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. (studio space) January 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

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