Theater of the Dead

Original Hungarian language version by Tibor Weiner Sennyey, appeared on on April 5, 2013. English language translation by Gábor Kálmánczhelyi.

The Tibetan Book of the Dead has inspired the new performance of Malomudvar Színházi Műhely. If they go see it, a lot of people will regret it, because it will be frightening and incomprehensible for them, just as other people’s death is, or their own unavoidable death in their life.

In the first ten minutes you become aware, that you’re not here for entertainment. Hopefully, you understand that ’entertainment’, which becomes the primary function of theater nowadays, can be just a secondary one, and not even ’teaching’ is its most important duty. Theater is a sacred-place, that sheds light on and unravels some issues, traumas, fits to, kickstarting the viewers’ associative train, put those present in the moment. Not only does it offer cry and laughter, but confrontation with all those issues we sweep under the carpet. It confronts us with death for example.

In the second ten minutes you definitely feel weird, start to squirm on your chair, thinking about whether it was really a good decision to come see this or ’God: its’ not even just unpleasant, it’s cruel.’ The philistine goes to theatre to get redemption for their petty sins, to see their own notions pretty in pink. The philistine will always suffer confronting the power and inhumanity of sanctity. The theater is a sacred-place. Not sacred in a way pietistics think. In a sacred-place there are no taboos. In the sacred-place death and birth are constant themes. In a sacred-place water and blood are the primary fluids. But any other fluid or material can pass. The sacred-place constantly reminds us with its elevated reality, how low-class life the vendors on the corner offer us, and how easily people accept and devour everything they stuff in their mouths. Just not a word about the fact of life and the importance of death.

The most important books of great heritages dealt with death and the existence after death. And through them, with life itself. The Tibetan or the Egyptian book of the dead-cult, and even Ars Moriendi, born from the marriage of Christianity and classical culture constantly thematized death. This is what Csaba Formanek and Lénárd Ilyés did in their ’physical theatre performance’ with the visuals of Ádám Pignitzky, in the creation of all three, in Malomudvar Színházi Műhely in the piece, ’Book of the Dead’. ’Book of the Dead’ admittedly born out of inspiration of the great book of the Tibetan bardo guidance, but strongly deviates from that. The sometimes difficult-to-figure-out narrative arc was laid out in three parts. They present the relationship to death of an old couple int the first one, of a budding, strange love in the second one, and of two monks in the third one. There is no speech in the play, just some kind of a gibberish language, at least three kinds of that. There is no traceable story, that the audience socialized on american films might have been accustomed to. However there is irony and cynicism, so unique humour, but never at the time we would expect, and it’s hard to decide if you can laugh now or not.

No, this piece is not ’good’, particularly not in the way they would descibe it as good here, and utterly not ’entertaining’. It goes against conventions, in part summarizes, in part starts something different and new. It’s related to cruel theatre, but connected to butoh for example or to the eastern theatre heritage as well. Ther is a lot of silence, it’s slow, sometimes it appears there’s no unwanted movement, and no unwanted object. The central theme is death. For this reason many will lower their flag and don’t dare watch it. They will fear Book of the Dead, and if they do go see it, a whole lot of them will regret it, because it will be frightening and incomprehensible for them just as other people’s death is, or their own unavoidable death in their life. There will be some, nevertheless, who collects thair remaining courage and instead of ’pleasantly relaxing’, present a sacrifice in the sacred-place, the theatre. In the theatre, you primarily sacrifice your concentration and time, and in turn hope to receive blessing and mercy. To experience this mercy, theater has to work with such cruel tools today, with what they can peel off the great deal of excess that stuck on us in everyday life. A whole range of notions, attachments, inconfrontations, and never any concsiousness when facing real factors of life. Being conscious means being there in the moment. The ever-misunderstood ’Carpe diem’ does not mean that you devour and drink everything or bull and thrash everything and everyone you can. That’s one of the biggest misconstructions. ’Seize the day’, live in the now’ - they say, but these are just slogans too, on to the point when you understand with all your heart, how much is this about your own life, specifically life, and how much is this about your own death, to be very specific, death. Now and here. There’s no getting off. There’s no escape. You don’t absolutely have to understand it. Maybe it’s impossible to understand it.

So, only the brave should go see ’Book of the Dead’. Those, who stuck in their conventions and notions and absolutely cling to them and those who want some light evening fun from theater, shouldn’t. Those who are able to tap through their associative train, as the monks do through their praying chains, those who know that the moments of life roll around as the grains of rice, those who doesn’t boggle at demons and fears, who can’t be held off by cruel honesty shouldn’t miss the piece. Perhaps few people will see it, because there are few brave contemplators, but they will have a real theater experience.

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