Fool Me Twice, Shame on Me!

West side storyIf you remember, we went to the refugee lecture which was advertised as being conducted in English…NOT!

When Ron suggested we attend the theater performance of West Side Story, I had a jumble of mixed emotions, but one of the hooks was “It will be in English.” Being a theater lover, here in Hungary, I feel like a kid peering in the candy store window, but not being able to devour the treats. Other than experimental theater, produced by ex-pats, the major productions are always in Hungarian.

What sparked my interest for this event was the venue. The play was being performed in the Erkel Theater. We saw one of the last performances to be held here before it was closed for remodeling in 2007; it had not reopened until 2013. I was excited to see the changes. On the outside it still does not look like much, but inside it has transformed from a cheap looking Communist block seating venue with uncomfortable chairs to one with simple elegance, stadium seating, and comfortable cushioned chairs.
ErkelTheatreThis was a sell-out performance, but as cultural tradition dictates at 6:59 pm; half of the seats were still unoccupied. By 7:08 pm, there was not a vacant space to be found.  The lights dimmed and the performance began. Glaring into our faces were two large strong beamed lights. At first we thought they were meant to be headlights of a car as a stage prop, but soon recognized them as poorly placed stage lights.

Within minutes, we grasped the fact that we were hoodwinked once more. The script was in Hungarian. The songs were sung in English, but the singing style was more in line with Beverly Sills as opposed to Barbara Streisand. They might as well have sung in Italian or Tibetan for all I understood. Staring at the action on stage, it occurred to me that I did not know the story, which made all of the movement and Hungarian script totally undecipherable. Alan Turing was needed to decode the goings on.

I had never seen the play before; actually, fifteen minutes into the 1961 movie is all it took before all interest was disappeared like smoke in a windstorm. Some of the music, ingrained in popular culture, seemed familiar, but I would have been at a loss to conjure the words from my subconscious. Names like the Sharks and Jets rang some distant bells in my cognizance recesses, but then they could have been faded recollections of old high school football teams for all I cared. Beyond that it was and is all a mystery.

By 8:30, the first act was completed, but coming to terms with a second act to follow was a challenge. Not wanting Ron to walk home alone kept me in place. Mastering the art of dozing in crowded theaters has helped me survive a few operas. If it were not for the blaring lights onstage, it would have been easier during this performance.

Ron, who knows both the story and music very well, thoroughly enjoyed the production even with the language limitations. However, if confession pleasures the soul, I am ready to admit chances are it would not have captured my interest even if it were entirely in English. My preference for musicals leans toward the Andrew Lloyd Webber type and far from the Gilbert and Sullivan range. Though I would be hard pressed to place this play on the scale, it is confirmed that it does not appeal to me.

The audience loved it. They did their humorous, but overly extended rhythmic clapping called vastaps until their hands turned the colors of bad bruises. Dictionary describes it as strong, loud, rhythmical (sic), synchronized clapping. I found two minor examples of the sound on YouTube, but be warned, neither are associated with West Side Story.

Vastaps 03.14 or this one Wass Albert, but you have to proceed to 5 minutes 19 seconds to get to the vastaps.

After completing my Ed.D., the frustration of finding a teaching position where I was willing to live, led to Ron and I leaving the country. We intended to travel for a year before settling somewhere in MA or RI. We left the US without any credit card debt, no car payments and our house mortgage paid by renters. We had $10,000 in the bank to make our way through a year.