Imagine a photo shop from another century. Then imagine a love story that starts in a dark park in Budapest under a flash light, continues somewhere in the other world and ends some place in this world. Time freezes in photographs, space slightly melts and constantly slides from the inward to the outward and sometimes the other way around…
The City Theater in Miercurea Ciuc presents one of the most beautiful plays in Hungarian drama, Ferenc Molnar’s Liliom, directed by Victor Ioan Frunza. Written a century ago, Liliom has had eight American screenings and famous enactments by Max Reinhardt, Fritz Lang or Michael Thalheimer. In a theatrical season that includes a staging of Hamlet and a musical after A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Ferenc Molnar’s play – which was chosen also because this year it celebrates the one hundredth anniversary of its Budapest premiere – beautifully shapes the repertoire of a young theatre created ten years ago.
Behind the knife
The story of Liliom – this ‘suburb playboy’ whose being is tormented by the rift between thought and word which deepens by the moment until he feels his aching heart beating ‘behind the knife’ – is in fact a parable about the lack of communication, softly portrayed on stage by Victor Ioan Frunza and Adriana Grand, with characters descending from a 1960’s movie, candidly wandering through our world nowadays. And it only so rarely happens right now in the world of theatre that a director – or a stage director, as Victor Ioan Frunza likes to put it – has the courage to embrace and assume the poetry of a text so that the show at Miercurea Ciuc becomes one of those rara avis where the beauty of the word doesn’t choke on its own meanings.
Facing each other, a man and a woman are seeking ways to reach one another. He is the slightly rebellious artist, a bit scared he might unwillingly find out he isn’t all that rebellious, and she is a young maid that loves him. Simple and neat. Without too many questions, she is prepared to give herself to him one night in a park, in the Budapest suburbs. Nothing scares her away. Not even the cruelty with which he reaches her, not even the words of some ‘kind’ people whose warnings crush her heart and whose flash light break the darkness of the park alley. Not even his insulting words that chase her away while his arms hold her. She stays with him, against all odds. There is darkness on stage. But the audience can easily guess the words and the gestures as if they were seen through a veil. He wants her, yet he rejects her, she gives herself to him naturally and shyly. Created with infinite delicacy, this scene comprises explanations to the whole staging of the play. Time starts rushing, stealing all the places the pair goes to, and the background photos, images of old buildings in Budapest or the flames projected on canvases, opening and closing light holes, everything accelerates or reduces its pace. It feels like a game of hide and seek between this realm and the other realm, in the fairytale sense, rather than this world and the other world in the biblical sense of the word.
The story flows away. Julika follows Liliom. She accepts his cheating and beating her and eventually she even accepts his suicide.
Victor Ioan Frunza manages in an extremely subtle manner to render the ineffable of the play. Julika sticks with Liliom because she can grasp his ‘unspoken words’ and he takes her with him because he feels she is the only one who is able to grasp his ‘unspoken words’. He is locked in himself as if in a lion’s den and cannot cry for help – that is his twisted sense of dignity or the ultimate proof of powerlessness, emphasized by Veress Albert’s interpretation in the Miercurea Ciuc staging. The powerlessness to say ‘I am sorry’ and the torture it generates. Everything is comprised in the suicide scene, near the train track leading to nowhere. The wooden crossbeams suddenly open up to the other realm and the way the dialogue is built between the people that happened to be around him harbors the entire indifference towards the death of another human being.
As a distorted reflection of their first date, the scene of Liliom’s death takes the form of a wedding dance. Julika, played by Benedek Agnes – this year’s winner for best female performance at the HOP Gala – is a strong, yet delicate person, sharing moments of great shyness mixed with cutting edge audacity as a hooker; she is both mother and child at the same time. When Liliom dies in her arms she is pregnant with his child and, though he is dead, she forces him to make love to her in a desperate attempt to break the barriers between the two worlds.
The ‘after world’ is painted in shades of pale. It is Purgatory drawn in vivid colors where God’s detectives send their ‘clients’ back to Earth to solve unfinished businesses. The mystery seems to halt halfway down the road where it meets some form of undisguised irony towards this particular space that lies between heaven and earth, between sin and forgiveness…
The final scene closes the circle. It is a conjunction beyond any world between the powerlessness to communicate of a soul gone through the steps of the Purgatory and the love that, years ago, had for one moment escaped the lion’s den. Liliom and Julika’s daughter delivers, through her final line, the very words of forgiveness he could never spell out and for which he had actually come back to Earth…Beaten by Liliom – who had come to fix what had been broken and to speak what had not been spoken – Luiza exonerates him with her words: “Mother, have you ever been beaten and felt no pain?!”
Translated by Adelina Margarit, MTTLC, 1st year