Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
Judit (Birgit Huppuch), a daughter out of the past, reappears in Budapest for an important holiday gatheringthe seder. Her mother Erzsike (Mia Dillon) was employed as a secretary, years back, for the Hungarian AVO, that country's KGB. Judith's more reliable and available siblings gather for the meal. Laci (Dustin Ingram) and Margit (Julia Sirna-Frest) have significant but not memorable roles in this play. Margit's boyfriend David (Steven Rattazzi) is American, Jewish, and he is depicted as a sometimes comic man. David, who says he is a therapist, has trouble saying certain words. This play, composed in English, makes it seem as if the actors are speaking in Hungarian.
The focal character (given a nuanced, detailed turn by Dillon) is Erzsike. An older person of many dimensions, she genuinely suffered when formerly employed as a secretary. Under pressure, she modified papers of some who were innocent but victims during Hungary's difficult years. A building at her workplace is now the site of the House of Terror in Budapest. This museum is a place which specifically delineates horrible acts committed when Hungary was struggling under either fascist or communist rule. As the play opens, Erzsike is horrified to see her picture on a rear Wall of Murderers in the museum.
Erzsike's secrets are, at once, terrible and profound. Judit is furiously angry with her mother. She is apoplectic at the outset and (however justifiably) yells often. Attila (Jeremy Webb) is not on stage often, but he and his relationship with Erzsike are pivotal. Attila was Erzsike's mean-spirited supervisor and they were sexually involved.
At the seder, words are read which recount the story of Jewish people seeking freedom, struggling with Pharaoh, and leaving Egypt. Erzsike turned away from this religion long ago but is willing to attend, as she desperately wants to resume contact with her older daughter, whom she has not seen.
The play is certainly historically relevant. The House of Terror is located where the Arrow Cross Party (with a Nazi affiliation) resided. The museum recalls and honors those who were brutalized during terrifying times.
Seder, directed by Elizabeth Williamson, is told in 2002 and also through flashbacks. While Laci is slightly more interesting than his sister Margit, neither figure all that prominently in plot development.
This production runs close to two hours and that feels too long. A tighter version might work even more proficiently. The quality of acting, throughout, is commendable. Nick Vaughan's set gives a fitting sense of both the apartment and the "wall" behind it. That juxtaposition works most effectively.
This is a new play and it clearly deserves significant attention. The major characters, fully sculpted by author Gancher, are sometimes arresting. The tumultuous mother-daughter relationship is volatile and constantly trying. Mia Dillon, as Erzsike, gives a full, thoughtful performance. Birgit Huppuch's Judit is incensed virtually all of the time. Erzsike's life is forever fracturedher older daughter is enraged by her mother. Playwright Gancher probes deeply; her writing, here, is at its best.
Seder continues at Hartford Stage in Hartford, Connecticut, through November 12th, 2017. For tickets, call (860) 527-5151 or visit www.hartfordstage.org.