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 Music | Dance | Jim Jarmusch | Theater

“Léonce et Léna”

Crisis theater
by Molly Grogan

grotesque, physical & surreal

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...” — When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, Árpád Schilling was a teenager in Communist Hungary and had likely never read A Tale of Two Cities. Fifteen years later, Dickens' analysis of the joy and terror following the French Revolution sums up the immense hope and profound dissatisfaction that accompanied the collapse of Communism and which informs the work of that same teenager, now the provocative new star of Hungarian theater. Barely 30 years old in 2004, Schilling has established an international following with his Budapest-based company Krékatör (named for Brecht’s Caucasian Chalk Circle), whose political activism as artistic happening is now solidly on the radar of French theater. Schilling’s latest appearance, with two shows (a ferociously minimalist “Leonce és Léna” by Büchner and the award-winning “Liliom,” by Ferenc Molnár), demonstrates the mature-beyond-his-years vision that drives this director’s exuberantly physical and surreal, even grotesque theater of crisis.
Invited to “Le Standard Idéal,” the festival of international creation recently inaugurated by the MC93 Bobigny, Schilling perfectly evokes the murky zone between Soviet-era aspirations and consumer excess that is the guiding theme of the month-long program. This angry child of Mittle Europa’s new trash society takes as his point of departure the equally misleading and dissatisfying visions held up yesterday by Communist technocrats and today by those same party officials, recycled as the new visionaries of the country's future in economic liberalism. In “Hazám Hazám” for example, created at Bobigny in 2002 and inspired by Büchner’s “La Mort de Danton,” Hungaria’s derelict political establishment is searingly satirized as a clown act, while in “Nexxt, Frau Plastic Chicken Show” (2001), a TV game show starring Little Alex from “A Clockwork Orange” offers a platform from which to examine a schizophrenic society.
Named Best New Director of 1999 by Hungarian theater critics while he was still a student at Budapest’s drama conservatory (a necessary rite of passage, Schilling claims, for acquiring contacts and funding to support the struggling Krékatör), this director’s success is only reinforcing his conviction that theater must be a forum of reflection and an agent of change. “It is urgent that theater become once again an active component of society,” he wrote in 2002. “Political, essential, anarchic if necessary.” In Árpád Schilling, Hungary has found the voice of its troubled times.
“Léonce et Léna” to Apr 4, “Liliom” Apr 6-10 — both shows in Hungarian with French subtitles, Tue-Fri 8:30pm, Sat 3:30 & 8:30pm, Sun 3:30pm (“Léonce et Léna” only), MC93 Bobigny, 1 bd Lénine, Bobigny (93), M� Bobigny-Pablo Picasso, 8E-23E, tel: 01 41 60 72 72