Stealing the Body: Gypsies from the Katona József Theater
Gypsies, by Jenő Józsi Tersánszky and Krisztián Grecsó, is a Hungarian play combining text from the original 1931 version. Katona József Theater presented this work at the Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theater for three performances starting March 15, 2012. A play spoken in Hungarian with English surtitles, it is theater with a cultural difference.
Body movement and staccato text played a big part in what made it stand apart from the usual approach to Western theater. There was a lot of text, which meant a lot of surtitles to read so the Dresser had to work hard at keeping up with the story. Essentially, the story explores the clash between gypsy and Hungarian cultures. The Hungarians of this play don't like the gypsies because the Hungarians say gypsies steal things. Mostly the Hungarians don't understand the gypsy culture and this makes the Hungarians nervous and afraid. Yes, this is about a small town attitude and when the patriarch of a gypsy clan is shot dead after he and his family run out of their house which has been hit with Molotov cocktail, the Hungarian officials: detectives, policemen, firemen, and the coroner don't know what to do. The family has stolen the body of the dead man stymieing the criminal investigation. An out-of-town journalist with a fancy recording device shows up to write about what has happened. The townsmen don't like her because at the root of their behavior is an intolerance for any kind of difference.
The sets were masterful in a high-tech way--big structures that moved seamlessly. There was much in the acting that was amusing, but some scenes seemed purposefully boring, so boring that the Act I curtain falls slowly on Hungarians talking endlessly about what to do about investigating what has happened at the gypsy enclave where no townsmen wants to go. The play ends in much the same way with the bereaved widow cussing about what has happened in the bar her husband would frequent. And a lot has happened including the revelation that the husband impregnated their daughter, spurned the foster son who loved that daughter in favor of another man much like the patriarical rogue. The favorite scenes included gypsy men playing their air instruments with such passionate moves that the Dresser could almost see the violins, accordion and cymbalom.
Bill Yarrow's poem "Burying the Hachet" echoes some of the negative and exotic energy perpetuated by Katona József Theater's production of Gypsies. The poem like the play also surprises the reader/audience with the intrusion of modern day inventions like the Jumbotron or a hand-held recording device.
BURYING THE HACHET
I wanted the pain to go away,
so I let them stick me. No luck.
I still feel rotten and now my head
deliciously empty for decades is
clogged with thought of dying.
Forget it. I'm doomed, I'm a goner.
I'm riding the rails of deterioration
I know it. Soon I will be boneless
and alone. But I am not alone.
Not yet. In the other room
my mother is wrestling a mongoose.
Between round she sits on a
radio instead of a chair. I can't
quite hear what is playin so
I say, "Turn it up. Turn it up."
A fireman holding an ice pick
adjusts the volume. The Chemical
Brothers appear on the Jumbotron.
Australia secedes from the U.N.
by Bill Yarrow
from Pointed Sentences