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English Newsletter, November 2009

Posted by jt - 2009. december 24.

Hungarian Theatre News – November

–  provided by the Hungarian Theatre Critics’ Association in collaboration with ITI Hungary. In this newsletter, you will find short reviews by theatre critics about current performances, as well as information about festivals and other theatrical events. Any further suggestions are welcome. If you wish to submit a different address or unsubscribe, please refer to the bottom of this newsletter.

–  You can read back issues of our newsletter online:

In this issue:

Anatoly Vasiliev in Hungary

20/20, a Hungarian-Romanian co-production

Tales from the Vienna Woods at the Katona Theatre

Istvan Tasnadi’s new play

Peter Nadas’s Trilogy

Information on:

Theatre law

What is the Kretakor Company up to?


The Hungarian-Romanian ethnic conflict: 20/20

We could quite simply call it a historical event in the recent history of Hungarian and Romanian theatre and cultural communication. Ten actors, under the direction of young Romanian theatre director and playwright Gianina Carbunariu, undertook a unique project: a part-fiction, part-documentary play about the dramatic events of March 1990 in Tirgu-Mures, Romania. Typical of Hungarian-Romanian ethnic conflict, this issue has not been adequately addressed, neither by the “parties” involved, nor by the theatre community at large. Nevertheless, the open conflict in this bilingual city in Romania was a traumatic event. In spite of some official media and political discourse, there has been no whisper of public debate, only personal memory.

Carbunariu, the director, brought five young actors from the Romanian capital and found five young Hungarian actors at the independent Yorick Studio Theatre. The title

20/20 refers to 20 years “after” the 20th of March 1990. Based on documentary research and interviews, the simple, well-conceived, and modestly designed show is a bilingual production that is subtitled when needed. It is not an investigation into the “truth” of the ethnic conflict, since there is no one truth, but as many truths as there are speakers, citizens and politicians. Personal stories of the actors and memories of the citizens of Tirgu-Mures are presented equally and credited as authentic. Humor, expressions of violent nationalism and prejudice, communication gaps, alienation, and amusing theatrical situations make the show a finely balanced, intelligent, and intense experience which addresses local and more universal issues at the same time. While the performance is somewhat longer than I would like, audience members leave the space having faced their own prejudices. They also experience a feeling of relief that a taboo has been destroyed and a silence has been broken.

Presented at the Contemporary Drama Festival in Budapest, the show worked excellently in front of an international audience. –Tompa Andrea

Love (?) and Fate in the Time of Economic Crisis

Gabor Zsambeki’s direction of Odon von Horvath’s Tales from the Vienna Woods at the Katona Jozsef Theatre is far from sentimental romanticism. It concentrates on the petty-bourgeois Josefstadter society as it faces economic depression and looming poverty. The members of this community are not demonic, but so self-centered and so fixated on their own well-being that they serve even the aspiring Fascists at any cost. In this production there is no room for the comforting myths epitomized by Johann Strauss’s waltzes. This music is deconstructed by Laszlo Sary, who plays several instruments on stage alongside Zsuzsa Varady. His contribution offers an ironic, fearful, and unpleasant counterpoint to the waltzes and sentimental volklieds or folk songs. The different settings are indicated by names on a board and ‘symbolized’ – in Brechtian terms – with significant objects (e.g., a doll and a mini-skeleton in the window of Abracadabra’s shop; a piece of raw meat, a butcher’s knife, and a chopping block at Havlitschek’s; etc.). The director also employs a master of ceremonies. The most dominant element of the set (designed by Csorsz Khell) is an advertising pillar with posters documenting the mood of the times, the economic hardship, and Fascist propaganda. It stands in the foreground of the stage. Besides this, we see Sieg Heil-s, and the foot of a table in the music hall forms a Nazi swastika; however, these elements remain in the background. The result is a down-to-earth, disillusioned approach to the work; yet, Zsambeki avoids any direct, global references to society or the current economic crisis. What we see is a complex and vital tableaux of everyday monsters. Zsambeki chooses to stage the three-act drama in three parts. Consequently, our attention is drawn to diverse and diffuse activity in von Horvath’s play. In the performance, too, it is difficult to take in every action of every character the first time. Still, there are memorable scenes, and the acting of the ensemble is superb and compelling to watch. — Timea Papp

Russian master Anatoly Vasiliev returned to Hungary to work for the third time. The first occasion was in the mid-90s. This time Vasiliev has chosen to stage the novel Entire Days in the Trees by Marguerite Duras at the once legendary theatre in Kaposvar, working (as always) with Mari Torocsik, one of the finest actresses in Hungary, who is now in her mid-70s. (She is probably best known abroad for winning the Best Actress prize at Cannes in 1976.) In a vast, light, elegant space with a fine corps of musicians and dancers, the play, which tells the story of a mother visiting her son in Paris, is primarily a performance based of long and dense monologues. This marks a comeback for Mari Torocsik after a serious illness, and her appearance makes the show a real event. In her interpretation, the presence of this mother figure flutters between being grandiose and small, lovable and fussy. Every minute of her performance is full of life and joy. However, the dramatic material seems somehow weak, and the dramaturgical work very pale. Human relations do not really develop around this totemic mother. Unfortunately, the rest of the characters appear futile. In addition, the new style of speech – slow, chopped, and over-emphasized – is unconvincing, artificial, and fake. Still, the unique lightness, joy, and wit of a Vasiliev production is still intact. — Tompa Andrea

Peter Nadas: Meeting and Funeral at Barka Theatre

Peter Nadas’s drama trilogy, entitled Cleaning, Meeting, and Funeral, is not among the most popular works of Hungarian literature. Although in the last three decades it has received a few stagings, none of them achieved relevance. Could this be because – and this was recently claimed by the author, Peter Nadas, in an interview – they are not good enough? One thing is certain: all three dramas are rooted in the Eastern Europe of the 70s and 80s. Nevertheless, the issues raised in the texts – power, affection, love, and human relations – are definitely timeless. So why do the theatres not keep them in repertory? Probably because of the sharp, model-like situations and the reduced, though powerfully lyrical language. The dramatic texts are evidently organized like musical compositions. That is why psychological-realistic interpretations of them tend to end in failure. The choice of director-choreographer Krisztian Gergye, one of the leading figures on the Hungarian contemporary dance scene, was brave and provocative. It is not surprising that Gergye tried to solve the riddles of the dramas with the aid of the human body.

The first drama, Cleaning, is not performed a play, but still is present. The set, also designed by Gergye, is a clear, abstract space inspired by the instructions of the piece. It is a stage-wide, deep, and dazzlingly white empty space, a spiritual and sacred area. Meeting is about the Young Man’s birth – here, rebirth – his growing up, and his coming to terms with his father and the father’s ex-lover. The drama focuses on explaining their secret, hidden relationships. In the last part of the trilogy, Funeral, the fight that occurs between the man and the woman, the Actor and the Actress, is closely connected to the problem of theatre-making and the pressure to find new forms of expression.

Gergye’s most important idea comes as a shock, but in practice, it works surprisingly well. In Meeting, he created six characters (three couples) out of thee two main characters, Maria and Young Man. All of them are on a careful search for their own truths. The humble work of the Barka Theatre Company is integrated with the congenial live music of Gyorgy Philipp. In Funeral, two contemporary dancers – the director Gergye and Melinda Virag – play the roles of the Actor and the Actress. Their movements and gestures are ‘dubbed’ by the three couples we encountered in the previous piece. At the end, there is no salvation. The exhausted Actor and Actress are finally buried in a coffin created from the stage. They are not able to return to take a bow. — Tamas Jaszay

Tasnadi Istvan’s new play

After his most successful Fedra Fitness, created as a independent show and performed in a fitness center, Tasnadi has gone on to direct his own play, something rare in Hungarian theatre practice. Entitled Cupido, the play is practically a traditional conversation piece set in a swinger’s club, a co-production of the Orkeny Theatre and independent companies and producers. The characters in the play, all representatives of contemporary Hungary, occupy the bored and corrupt upper class, which no longer has any human values. The “everyman” (or woman) is a kind of victim of the situation, with some remains of values like family, love, and morality. In his earlier works, Tasnadi managed to find a supple, organic form (generally verse) with which could make an abstraction, an alienation between form and content. He does not succeed this time. The play, although it has humor and good actors, is a somewhat simplified story of a couple. They visit a swinger’s club, then become victims of their own helplessness, as well as the manipulation of others. As the play develops, the story becomes too obvious, plain, and self-evident, descending into stereotypes and demagogic simplification. — Tompa Andrea


Theatre Law

The Performing Arts Act, which covers all three fields of theatre, dance, and music, was accepted by almost 60 % of MPs in the Hungarian Parliament on the 8th of December 2008. (Act XCIX of 2008 on the subsidization and special regulation of employment in performing art organizations)

Since the 1960s, as artistic expression started to gain more and more freedom, the number of financial anomalies limiting the possibilities of creative processes has also increased. The development of a bill representing the interests of the artists was first initiated by the film industry. (Motion Picture Act, 2004) The success of the initiative motivated theatre artists, the field with the second biggest financial demands.

Those preparing the bill realized at the very beginning that the foundations of the theatre profession and its institutional management had to be re-built, considering the world and Hungarian society had changed significantly since 1989, from the Labor Act to the system of state subsidies. The mentality of the 21st century repositions art, theatre, and the relation between audience and theatre.

One of the most important tasks was clarifying the questions of structure-based financing: how to build up a system of adjudication for subsidizing theatres, companies, and workshops with one or several special profiles (entertainment, dramatic, independent, youth-centered, dance, operatic, or puppetry). What criteria should the amount of subsidy depend upon? One condition of subsidizing is registration. Performing arts organizations are divided into six categories depending on their accomplishments. Organizations in the first four categories are subsidized by the general budget, while other organizations – as well as those that are not registered – are subsidized from tenders.

Due to the new categories, the theatre law has its winner and losers. Generally, big theatres with one profile benefit. The independent field is undergoing a clear system of financing. According to the law, the independent field should get a minimum of 10% of the general subsidy of theatres. (This provokes a lot of discussion.)

One of the most critical aspects of the law is that it is still financing theatre on a quantitative basis (i.e., how big the theatre is, how many shows it produces), instead of introducing qualitative points of view.

Another important part of the act addresses the special circumstances of employment at theatres. The act introduces the concept of theatrical season and determines service and performance numbers. It also contains tax expenditures that have to be approved by the European Commission, so they can only come into effect in 2010.

Recently, in practice, the act has met with some objections and disappointments on the part of the beneficiaries, not to mention problems with law harmonization. That a subsidy can be determined as a given percentage of the GDP (thus depending on the economic state of the country) has turned out to be an illusion. Furthermore, the act does not encourage profitable companies to contribute to the financial support of theatres. There are also disputes regarding the competence and reporting obligations of the Cultural Minister and the minister-appointed Performing Arts Council. In my opinion, a reform of the act can only occur in a better economic environment, but it could also happen that no one would urge reform of the act in such circumstances. Passionate discussions between repertory and independent theatres have followed the adoption of the new law. — Tibor Balogh

What is the Kretakor (Chalk Circle) Company up to?

After its disintegration last year, the Hungarian Kretakor Company, which was a decisive and significant force in Hungarian alternative theatre, defined a new artistic conception. This new artistic direction means that Kretakor will not have performances as before (so they will not really be visible on the theatre map). The company (which is not the old one) will work on very diverse new projects. Some of these projects are related to other contemporary arts, and they plan to organize events (e.g., music concerts or lectures about architecture) at Basis, a large apartment in the city. One of these new experiments was the Apology of Escapologist. It began last year with exhibitions on the streets of Budapest, followed by performances at Basis. The director of the company, Arpad Schilling, was invited to work together with a teachers’ community which is responsible for improving children’s creativity by creating theatre performances. Schilling was also asked by the French circus organization (Centre National des Arts du Cirque) to work together with students for their graduation performance, and the students were invited to spend some days in Budapest in September. The event concluded the French students and teachers’ visit and was held with a mini-symposium and a performance. The URBANRABBITS was not just the exposition of a single story, but a string of individual chapters conveying individual thoughts. They also organized street-actions to find practical applications to what they had discussed. — Orsolya Kelemen

The newsletter does not represent the opinion of the Hungarian Theatre Critics’ Association, but of the individual critics.

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