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Us/Them

Orlai Productions

Creative team: Lili LÁSZLÓ, Bettina JÓZSA, Benett VILMÁNYI, Zsuzsa SZAKÁCS, Bence BÍRÓ
Directed by Balázs Benő FEHÉR

Premiere: 2018

Date I saw This Show: 29 November, 2019

 

What I Saw

 

Us/Them was my favorite of all the performances I saw. Two eleven-year-old children (played by actors in their twenties) recount the 2004 Beslan school siege in North Ossetia, Russia, where 1100 citizens (the majority of them schoolchildren) were held hostage for three days by armed Chechen terrorists. The standoff ended when Russian security forces stormed the school. More than 330 people were killed, including 186 children.

 

Poignant for any American, as we are collectively held hostage by the terror of repeated mass gun violence and the impotence of our elected officials to confront the crisis, Wijs’s play is told in a straightforward tone refreshingly free of heavy-handed sentiment or melodrama. It is a play about children trying to make sense of this event; trying to make sense of terrorism. Politics are nowhere to be found in the storytelling which instead foregrounds the children’s imagination.

 

The LAB at Jurányi, a large room that in some previous life had been a gym, was the ideal location for the site-specific performance. With no set, no lighting design, and no costumes, the actors created the world as they played. Tape on the floor outlined the footprint of the school and its various rooms. Chalk on the downstage wall represented first, simple math problems and later, the number of hostages being held, the tally constantly revised down over the course of the 60-minute performance. String, woven through the rafters of the ceiling, became an art installation, with black helium balloons attached to it by clothes pins, representing the terrorists’ bombs. A fog machine filled the room with smoke when the building’s ceiling collapses. And for the final, indelible image, the actors unfurl a huge plastic tarp and then spill giant, five-gallon paint buckets full of red liquid across the floor.

 

The creative, abstract staging using found objects, the power of the story wedded to the simple yet inventive way it was told, and the superb performances of the two actors made this piece a complete knockout.

About the Artist

Orlai Productions is a Hungarian independent theatre company, and as such, it falls outside of the traditional repertory system, and operates without any government subsidy. In addition to hugely successful runs of well-known plays, Orlai Productions has always taken a supporting interest in alternative theatre groups, which has gained it even more critical acclaim.

 

They hold over 600 performances annually all around Hungary, more than half of which take place in Budapest in their home theatre.

 

Director Balázs Benő Fehér, in addition to his academic obligations, has participated in several independent productions, both as an actor and as a director. His first work as a director was a stage adaptation of the novel Crime and Punishment. This production was one that could only be watched by a single viewer at any one time. Us/Them is the eighth performance he has directed.
 

Orlai Productions participated in the programme of dunaPart4 (2017) with Madman.

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