Thursday, November 2, 2017

CT Theater Review: Seder -- Hartford Stage

The cast of Seder. Photo" T. Charles Erickson
By Sarah Gancher
Directed by Elizabeth Williamson
Hartford Stage
Through Nov. 12

By Lauren Yarger
What's It All About?
A tour-de-force performances by Mia Dillon heads this look at a family trying to put the past behind. In the case of this clan, it's a pretty horrific past. Erzsike (Dillon) did what she had to do to survive during communist rule of Budapest, Hungary. That included being the mistress of torturer and killer Attila (Jeremy Webb). Now, 13 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Budapest's House of Terror Museum has opened and a wall exhibiting portraits of murderer's under the past regime ignites embers of discord in her home. Her estranged daughter, Judit (Birgit Huppuch) is the curator of that exhibit and has included a picture of her mother, even though Erzsike proclaims she knew nothing of the torture and murder taking place in the basement of the office building where she worked, even though it was the home of the Nazi-affiliated Hungarian Arrow Cross Party during World War II and to the AVO, the brutal secret police of the Hungarian Communist Party.

Caught up in the conflict are Erzsike's son, Laci (Dustin Ingram) who makes his living trafficking women for the Russian mob -- things aren't all that great under Democracy -- along with daughter Margit (Julia Sirna-Frest) who remains in a state of denial while trying to hold the families first Seder in honor David (Steven Rattazzi), the American writer she hopes will be a serious romantic interest,

What Are the Highlights?
Dillon's performance is bold and chilling. In flashback ( Director Elizabeth Williamson and Lighting Designer Marcus Dilliard) create clear time travel that doesn't distract from the present) we see her helplessness as a 19-year-old chosen to be Attila's mistress while growing fond of the demanding military man. We also cringe when she is handed off, almost as a piece of property, to Tamas (Liam Craig) for a marriage that is doomed to fail, but Erzsike continues to make sacrifices for her children. Perhaps the most chilling component is a matter-of-fact disclosure that all of her conversations and movements seemed to be under surveillance by the communist regime.

Adding some much-needed humor is a continuing gag that has David mispronouncing vowels in his otherwise almost-perfect Hungarian (the technique at the beginning to slip changes in the dialogue that allow us to understand whether English or Hungarian is being spoken by the group, even though we are always hearing English, is very clever).

What Are the Lowlights?
This is pretty heavy material layered on the standard dysfunctional family theme. So overall, it's pretty depressing.

Having David also be a counselor who offers his help to the dysfunctional family feels glib. The idea that David would insist they continue on with the Seder (and that they would) also seems a bit forced, though the play apparently is based on a true story.

More Information:
Seder is part of Gancher's seventh cycle of plays set in Budapest, where she lived for several years.

Set Design: Nick Vaughan; Costume Design: Ilona Somogyitage); Sound Design: Jane Shaw; Script Consultant: Jocelyn Clarke. (Sundance Theatre Lab, SITI Company); Wig Design Jodi Stone

Seder runs through Nov. 12 at Hartford Stage, 50 Church St., Hartford. Performances are Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday at 7:30 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm and Sun at 2 pm.
Tickets are $25-$95: 860-527-5151;

Open Captioned Performance Sunday, Nov. 5 at 2 pm.
Audio Described Performance Nov. 11 at 2 pm

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)
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