Sunday night and a foray to the National Theater to see a performance of an English-language comedy, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare.
The concept: every one of Shakespeare's plays performed by three players in two hours. As you might imagine, some of the bard's larger themes get glossed over in this format. This play was written by some prog-rock sounding trio called Long-Singer-Borgeson and is performed at the Nemzeti by a dramatic troupe called the Madhouse Theater Company. Mike Kelly, Matt Devere and Andrew Hefler make up the cast.
And, as you also might have imagined by now - it's a comedic spoof.
I had heard about this play and its long Budapest run many times. But the main circumstance that put me in the seats was not a review or knowledge of the text. It was a chance encounter with cast member Matt Devere in a Budapest watering hole a few weeks ago that brought me there.
Some of my pals I was with at this bar know Matt and we were introduced. Turns out we are both motorcycle afficionados. We knew this because we were both wearing t-shirts with Triumph logos on them (Triumph the motorcycle brand, not the hairy Canadian 70s hard rock trio). When introduced, we checked each other's shirts out and sort of looked at each other like this for a moment:
(Matt's about 2cm taller than me, so I guess that makes him the one on the left.)
Matt and I chatted a bit, I lamented being without a Triumph in a cycle-friendly town, he bought me my fifth Unicum*, and I pledged to see his show within the month.
On Sunday I was good as my word. Navigating a convoluted system of Metro, trams and buses brought us to the National Theater (Nemzeti Szinház), a relatively new complex that also includes a second building for the Palace of Arts (Művészetek Palotája). The Palace of Arts building is quite handsome. I can't say the same for the theater building - a marriage of late-19th century neo-Hungarian excess and 21st century XIII district condominum.
But it's what goes on inside that counts. And the inside of the theater was packed, mostly with what I assumed to be rich Hungarian teens and their chaperones. A full house for a play that is not new on a Sunday night - very impressive.
And the play did not disappoint the packed house. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare is not so much a theatrical piece but an elaborate comedy sketch. The script is loose and unfocused, but the production is amply held together by the charisma of the three players. There are a few moments (too few IMO) where the true dramatic talents of the players are juxtaposed against the slapstick of the material. I thought those scenes provided the most entertaining bits of the evening.
For the record, the play ends with Hamlet being done in 90 seconds - backwards. What a piece of work is a man! How infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable! Especially when cross-dressing as Ophelia with buck teeth or running about the stage in reverse gear with a rubber knife through thine own cursed head.
*Don't drink five Unicums. I can say that for me, after three Unicums I'm in such a state of hilarity that the taxi driver who pours me home can count on another 500ft in gratuity for every Unicum I consume after #2.
Monday, November 17. 2008
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