All images from dunaPart.net
by FÜGE Production with Mihály Schwechtje
Performed by Júlia MENTES/Katalin GERGELY, Gusztáv MOLNÁR, Csaba POLGÁR, Bertalan KADÉT, Katalin SZELES/Abigél DÖMÖTÖR
Dramaturg: Gábor NÉMETH
Costume and Design: Mária TORMA
Lights and sound: József NAGY, Ádám LANGÓ
Production assistant: Katinka BORDÁS
Production manager: Dóra GULYÁS, Genovéva PETROVITS
Directed by Mihály SCHWECHTJE
Date I saw This Show: 28 November, 2019
What I Saw
Representation of the Roma on Hungarian stages is a fraught issue. dunaPart 5 had two offerings that dealt with this topic directly, Mihály Schwechtje’s The Legacy and Gypsy Hungarian, presented by T6. The latter is the only piece in the festival created and performed by Roma performers themselves. Unfortunately, it was one of the few shows I missed in my travels around the city. After The Legacy’s problematic Roma representation, I really wished I had Gypsy Hungarian to hold up as a contrast. I was able to attend a panel discussion on this subject at Jurányi on the final day of the festival titled “The (self-)representation of Romas on stage—trends and challenges in today’s Hungary,” where the panelists (three non-Roma Hungarians, including Schwechtje, and one Roma who performed in Gypsy Hungarian) were admirably frank and forthright. Roma people (some of whom, I learned at the talk, prefer the term gypsies) have consistently been portrayed by non-Roma artists in overwhelmingly negative ways, reinforcing the worst commonly-held stereotypes. Pieces like Gypsy Hungarian are a small step in the right direction, but there is still a long way to go in terms of positive and fair representation.
The Legacy started out promising. A three-hander about a doctor who has returned to a rural village in the Hungarian countryside to settle his mother’s affairs after her death; the acting by the lead character was strong. The two supporting players, each handling four or five different roles, did a fine job distinguishing among their characters. The play seemed to be probing interesting questions about family legacies, urban versus rural life, and generational differences. Unfortunately, the plot quickly devolved into a story of Roma villagers selling their children for drug money and ended with the protagonist ‘saving’ one of the boys from a similar fate by ‘adopting’ him and absconding with him to Budapest. There were two child actors in the play, one of whom was the only Roma person involved in the production. I was surprised (somewhat pleasantly so) to see these issues get interrogated by the panelists at the talk, including several tense moments when pressure was applied towards Scwechtje for his irresponsible creative decisions. As I said, and as the convener of the talk acknowledged, there is still a long way to go.
Postscript: A new collection of Roma monodramas, entitled Roma Heroes and edited by Rodrigo Balogh of the Independent Theatre, has just been published. It is the first international Roma drama collection in the world.
About the Artist
Mihály Schwechtje is mainly known as a filmmaker. His short films and his first feature film have received several awards. Thanks to his own theatre piece, which was premiered in the Jurányi House in February 2019, he is now also ranked amongst the contemporary theater auteurs. In his plays Schwechtje is treating contemporary social problems. His characters are mainly victims of modern society. His first own theater play, The Legacy, has been critically acclaimed. After this success, Schwechtje has been invited to the prestigious Radnóti Theater to direct another one of his own plays.