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English Newsletter, February 2010

Posted by jt - 2010. március 12.

English Newsletter, February 2010

– 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:

Maya (Szabolcs Fenyes – Imre Harmath) at Gardonyi Geza Theater, Eger

Blissfully in Moorland – In the Moors (People’s Theatre, Subotica)

After Hamlet – Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (Csiky Gergely Hungarian Theatre, Timisoara)

Oedipus the King (Sophocles – Jon Fosse) at Kaposvar

Two-headed Beast (Sandor Weores) at Katona

The Danton Case at Studio K

Theatre academy in Szombathely stages The Man Who Laughs

Critics comment on the selection of The National Theatre Festival in Pecs

Maya (Szabolcs Fenyes – Imre Harmath) at Gardonyi Geza Theater, Eger

The encounter of one the most renowned Hungarian directors, Sandor Zsoter, and the genre of operetta was surprising and necessary at the same time, although we had to wait more than two decades since the beginning of Zsoter’s carrier. Nowadays, Zsoter’s stagings usually address the phenomenon of meta-theatre, or ‘theatre within theatre’ (cf. his Hamlet at the Jozsef Attila Theatre earlier this year). That is why the 1931 operetta called Maya, by Imre Hamrath and Szabolcs Fenyes, is more than ideal for his purposes. All the characters lie to each other and deceive everyone else and themselves, too.

The young lad Dixi lies to his friend Charlie that he has fallen in love with Charlie’s (maybe) platonic love called Madelaine. After shooting Dixi (although Dixi survives), Charlie escapes to Tanger, where he meets the famous diva called Maya. Maya soon becomes jealous at the sudden appearance of Madelaine, so she prepares a kind of a private theatre show for Charlie to make him desperate. The overtly kitschy tale takes place among fabulous Oriental sets and built-up images of Paris – for Zsoter, the story seems like a fairy tale written for sentimental adults. Both fans of operetta and fans of Zsoter can be happy with the result, because in the head-to-toe pink world, one can find all the clichés of the genre and the delicate parody of these commonplaces as well. The show is condemned to success because of the great and well-known melodies in addition to the disciplined work of almost all the actors. The renowned Hungarian contemporary dancer Andrea Ladanyi helped Zsoter by choreographing some very spectacular dances replete with dance history references. – Tamas Jaszay

Blissfully in Moorland – In the Moors (People’s Theatre, Subotica)

This piece was compiled/written by Kata Gyarmati, based on the dramas of Matei Visniec and directed by Gabor Nagypal at the People’s Theatre, Subotica. Apart from the numerous publications – mainly translations of his poems – in literary magazines, here only two thin books containing Visniec’s works are available in Hungarian. This season there are three Visniec premieres, although he is literally unknown in Hungarian theatres. Regardless of the genre, the tone of his works – at least for me – has a somewhat pessimistic tone.

Kata Gyarmati made this adaptation based mainly upon two one-act plays (And What About the Cello? and The Man Who Is Talking to Himself). Together with director Gabor Nagypal (an actor who started his career in Novi Sad, Serbia, and who now is a regular at Studio K, Budapest), they retained Visniec’s playfulness and ironic philosophy, but sweetened the aforementioned gloomy tone, which now seems cheerful and serene. There is even a subtitle indicating the genre of this new piece: fate-bliss. There is no story. The five characters (the man with glasses, the man with a hat, the man with a walking stick, the man with a newspaper, and the man with a scarf), dressed in a casual approach to white tie, occupy a green platform decorated with water lilies. They are somewhere. Anywhere. They sit, stand, lie down, play cello, smoke, talk – do petty, unimportant things. The have no important characteristics. Time and place is not important. Being is important, and they are desperate to find explanations to their existence. In the Moors is about dependence – how we depend on each other and, conversely, on a superior power that could be called fate, fortune or God. It is also about how our biggest challenge in life is often wrapped up in our dependence, and how this dependence can lead to happiness. – Timea Papp

After Hamlet – Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (Csiky Gergely Hungarian Theatre, Timisoara)

Director Victor Ioan Frunza’s name has long been associated with the Csiky Gergely Hungarian Theatre in Timisoara. Most of the ensemble’s emblematic shows were staged by him, and the main roles were played by Attila Balazs. Frunza and the previous management had an argument, so he was out, but he continued working with Balazs. As the artistic director of the theatre in his second full season, Attila Balazs hired Frunza again. In 2003, he staged Hamlet in Timisoara. In this new production – nominated for the Romanian theatre award, the UNITER Prize, in three categories – he uses some of the old set, costumes and props, even some of the actors who appeared in the emblematic show (but only one of them plays the same role). This recycling shows a kind of continuity and bears a slight allusion to author Tom Stoppard’s original aim. It emphasizes the relationship between the play and Shakespeare’s work. In other words, without Hamlet, the play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead would not exist. (The quotations from Shakespeare are projected.) On the other hand, I assume, Frunza does not expect the audience to be familiar with his Hamlet, on which so much of the plot and the set of his Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is based. In Frunza’s interpretation, this piece is only partly about the randomness and the incomprehensibility of the world, the boundaries of language, the confusion that words cause, or the inability to express feelings with words. The strongest focus is on the connection between life and stage. Therefore, as a direct consequence, this Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is almost exclusively about creating illusion and making theatre. Even if the end is bleak (in the final scene, we see Rosencrantz and Guildenstern lying as two corpses on the stage covered with soil as the curtain closes behind them), I would rather say that black humour is one of the main guiding principles of the show, and there is a fine balance between the comedy and the occasional moments of tragedy. – Timea Papp

Oedipus the King (Sophocles – Jon Fosse) at Kaposvar

Thanks to the work of Gabor Rusznyak, one of the most remarkable young Hungarian theatre directors, this performance Oedipus the King has been mounted on the studio stage of the theatre in Kaposvar. The adaptation, using the texts of Sophocles and Jon Fosse, has a lean, exact and contemporary language that focuses first of all on telling a crime story. The whole performance passes off in little more than an hour and is supported by unique scenery.

In the set design of Viola Fodor, status symbol relics and objects hang off the ceiling. The ropes are moved by figures seated on the balcony. They wear golden masks and symbolize gods that toy with humans. Thus, Gabor Rusznyak indicates the unchangeable destiny of Oedipus. The chorus also plays a silent, yet important role. They sit among the audience in great numbers and suggest that we are also a part of Sophocles’ timeless story.

The exact interpretation of the play, the creative use of space and accessories, as well as the consequent and spectacular unfolding of the symbols make Oedipus the King one of the best performances of the 2009/2010 theatrical season in Hungary. – Robert Marko
Two-headed Beast (Sandor Weores) at Katona

Sandor Weores’s body of work is among the greatest classics of 20th-century Hungarian literature. To this day, first and foremost, his poetry is of central interest; however, his verse dramas are also remarkable chapters in Hungarian theatre history. His play Two-headed Beast (written in 1968) had to wait almost one and a half decades to be presented. Censorship in the 70’s would not allow a theatrical staging of the work.

From this, it follows that Sandor Weores’s play is a harsh political satire by genre. It has recently been staged by Gabor Mate at the Katona Jozsef Theatre. The most important value of the Katona performance is that it refers to our age. The director has unfolded the generalized layers of the play, which takes place in 17th-century Hungary, split in three by the Turks, Hungarians and Austrians.  It addresses the choices one has for living in the midst of a crazy and intangible war. Without setting the action in a modern milieu, set designer Balazs Cziegler hung countless articles of clothing over the stage. Now and again, the characters take down a costume and change into it, indicating that nobody has a stable identity and only appearance counts. – Robert Marko

The Danton Case at Studio K

The director Gabor Koltai has staged Stanisława Przybyszewska’s play with a deep analytic look that betrays his fascination for the text and his curiosity for the problematic relationship between politics and people, as well as the politician and the human within one man. Danton and Robespierre are played by two actors with extremely strong individual and distinct features. This maintains a persistent tension culminating in a scene where the two characters have dinner together. Danton (Attila Menszator Heresz) has an immutable belief in his individual, powerful attraction and behaves like a pop star adored by millions, only he loses his voice literally when it is most needed. Robespierre (Karoly Kuna), though more and more weary, keeps his integrity, which is partly perceived as a secret by the audience.

The performance is interactive, but does not frighten the audience off. We are only asked to follow the actors to the buffet of the theatre or to rearrange our seats in the small theatre room of Studio K. Gradually, we realize that we have the freedom of choosing where to sit and from which point of view to witness the revolution. At the same time, we become part of the passive and/or impotent mob watching the execution of Danton and the manifestation of terror. – Andrea Radai

Theatre academy in Szombathely stages The Man Who Laughs

Director Jeles Andras is primarily a fine film director, but he has worked from time to time in theatre as well. He was considered very radical and avant-garde, researching unknown paths of theatre. Recently, he has rarely worked in theatre, not receiving commissions for work. Now he has created a performance based on Victor Hugo’s famous novel. The fine performance is not text-based, but a very visual, almost picturesque presentation of images, movement, sound and visual effects. Costumes are well designed. The result is very theatrical, indeed, characterised by a surrealistic, hyperbolic theatricality typical of the 80s, which can be still powerful, coherent, consequent and very emotional. The storytelling is clear, and the adaptation is fine work as well. The story of the man with a distorted face – his adventures and loves, humiliation and defencelessness – and human cruelty turn the show into deeply moving theatre event. It is an ode to humanity and love. Performance is mostly focused on choral acting, whereas individual work is less visible. The little known academy from Szombathely certainly surprises us with this show. – Andrea Tompa

Critics comments the selection of The National Theatre Festival in Pecs

The National Theatre Festival in Pecs has announced its program. This year, it was selected by a critic of classical music, Miklos Fay.

Main Theatre

  • Bertolt Brecht: The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui (Orkeny Istvan Theatre, Budapest. Director: Sandor Zsoter)
  • An adaptation of Ion Luca Caragiale and a lost rough translation by Aladar Rusznyak, executed by Istvan Mohacsi. Luca Caragiale: The Lost Letter (National Theatre of Pecs. Director: Janos Mohacsi)
  • Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol: The Inspector General (Hevesi Sandor Theatre, Zalaegerszeg.

Director: Bertalan Bago)

  • Ring Me, Mobile Revue for Actors and Cells (Gardonyi Geza Theatre, Eger. Director: Gabor Mate)
  • Sergei Medvedev: Hairdresser (Csokonai Theatre, Debrecen. Director: Viktor Ryzhakov)
  • Bernard Shaw: Arms and the Man [Hungarian title: The Hero and the Chocolate Soldier] (Katona Jozsef Theatre, Budapest. Director: Gabor Mate)
  • Michael Frayn–Istvan Mohacsi: Noises Off (North Theatre of Satu Mare, Harag Gyorgy Company. Director: Janos Mohacsi)

Chamber or Studio Theatre

  • Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol: Marriage (National Theatre of Szeged. Director: Tamas Juronics)
  • Andras Vinnai–Viktor Bodo–Julia Robert–Tamas Turai: The Dice Man (Sputnik Shipping Company – Modern Theatre and Behaviour Research Institute – Laboratory, Budapest. Director: Viktor Bodo)
  • Alfred Jarry: Ubu the King (Maladype Theatre, Budapest. Director: Zoltan Balazs)
  • Andras Vinnai: 9231, or the End of Artistic and Literary Creation (KoMa, Budapest)
  • The Beach – based on The Stranger by Albert Camus (Kosztolanyi Dezso Theatre / Urban Andras Company, Szabadka)
  • 20/20 (Yorick Studio – Tirgu Mures & dramAcum – Bucharest. Director: Gianina Cărbunariu)
  • Odon von Horvath: Kasimir and Karoline (Orkeny Istvan Theatre, Budapest. Director: Laszlo Bagossy)

Andrea Tompa: I am disappointed by the selection. At first glance, the whole programme leans in the direction of “light” performances, musical pieces instead of “serious” dramas, opting for the tricky, the superficial and the trendy. Although the National has had an outstanding season – with such shows as Mein Kampf, Bank ban, Jr. and Schiller’s Love and Intrigue – none of them appear in the programme, which is hard to explain. Skipping all the shows of the National might have been an ambiguous “concept”. This month the Katona has premiered an important show based on the work of Hungarian poet Sandor Weores, Two-Headed Beast. An outstanding show at the Orkeny Istvan Theatre, Cat’s Play is also absent. Mari Torocsik’s more-than-two-hour performance in a show directed by Anatoli Vasiliev is one of the major events of the season, and it will not be seen in Pecs. The Man who Laughs by Andras Jeles could have also been included. However, inviting the 20/20 from Yorick Studio (Tirgu-Mures, Romania) is a good thing.

Andrea Radai: Although I have not seen all the selected performances, I have to say that the programme does not contain great surprises or risky choices. It is as if Miklos Fay preferred shows that, while not without quality, are accessible to a wider range of audience. The performances are entertaining and, to a certain extent, provocative at the same time. I could say that I would not mind buying tickets to any of them for my mother’s birthday. Nevertheless, I am deeply sorry that, for example, Mein Kampf from the National has not been selected. In my opinion, that, too, would have suited the concept quite nicely.

Robert Marko: That Miklos Fay selected the competition program of the 10th National Theatrical Meeting of Pecs (POSZT) is like taking a middle course. For years now, theatre critics have wanted a theatre critic to make the selection. Fay is a critic, though not of theatre; he is a music critic. He is the type of music critic who has attended the theatre once in a while in recent years, and he has published (for better or worse) his critical comments. As a matter of fact, as a non-professional, Fay could look at contemporary Hungarian theatre and characterize phenomena with fresh eyes. As a selector, though, he did not have any insight (and maybe he lacks it to this day) into the processes that determine Hungarian theatre companies. That is definitely the reason why the high-standard performances produced at the National Theatre are excluded from POSZT’s competitive program. Also noticeable in Fay’s selection is how considerations of entertainment outweigh those of art. Altogether, we could say that the selector did not take serious risks, and Hungarian theatre’s most current products and brands will be present at the National Theatrical Meeting in Pecs.

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

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