Interview With Kaddish Director, Barbara Lanciers

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DSC02151**This interview was conducted by Single Carrot Theatre in March 2013

What inspired you to take on this project?

My grandmother, Ilona Boros, left Hungary in 1944 and eventually made her way to the United States.  I always thought of my grandmother as a nice lady with a pretty singing voice who had a funny accent and made funny food; this was my connection to my Hungarian roots.  It wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties that my grandmother pulled out a photo of herself as a young girl in an elaborate costume very clearly in the midst of a performance.  She told me, “This is why I think you love the theater so much. You inherited it from me”  That is how I found out that, as a girl, my grandmother was in training to be an opera diva and was part of a well-known children’s theater troupe, Aldori Basci (Uncle Aldori) in Budapest.

Shortly after this revelation, I moved to Baltimore, entered the MFA Theatre Program at Towson University, met Philip Arnoult (Director of the Center for International Theatre Development), and traveled to Budapest for the first time.  This introduction to Hungary occurred in 2005; I traveled there to conduct research for the creation of a production based on my grandmother’s escape from Hungary as an eighteen-year-old girl during the last days of World War 2.  (This piece was called Leaves with a Name and premiered at Creative Alliance in 2007).

It was on that trip that I walked into the English language bookstore of the Central European University and saw an entire section devoted to the works of the Hungarian, Nobel Prize-winning author, Imre Kertész.  I had heard of him but had never read any of his writing.  Because I was in the midst of a somewhat archaeological search into my grandmother’s history, and because I was trying to understand as much as I could of the context of her childhood in Hungary, I bought three of Kertész’s novels: Fatelessness, Liquidation, and Kaddish for an Unborn Child.  I read Kaddish first.  It changed my life.  Never before had I read such brutally honest, powerful, lyrical prose.  I devoured the short novel in one sitting and then pulled out a sketch pad and immediately began dreaming about what I would do if I was ever able to stage it.  Of course, in my dream I saw my friend and talented performer Jake Goodman playing the protagonist.  From the beginning I knew it had to be Jake.

What is important about producing Kaddish now? How is it relevant to current events?

In Hungary’s 2010 election, a center right political party, Fidesz, won with a two-thirds majority.  This gave them an unprecedented level of power, and the Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, has become quite a sensation within the EU and in the international media for swiftly eroding the checks and balances necessary for a healthy democracy.  Paul Krugman of the New York Times has been giving a lot of blog space to his Princeton colleague and constitutional law expert Kim Lane Scheppele on the subject.  She is perhaps, in my opinion, the most eloquent writer on the subject of this new era of Hungarian politics:

Here is a recent story in the New York Times on the situation in Hungary:

For artists in Hungary, this political tension and upheaval is creating a crippling climate.  The New Yorker recently printed an article in which Imre Kertész is specifically discussed in relationship to this constantly shifting landscape:

I have family in Hungary and am a proud Hungarian.  After my 2005 trip, I made several additional research trips for the creation process of Leaves with a Name.  I lived in Budapest on a Fulbright Scholarship in 2007-08.  I have been traveling to Hungary at least twice a year since 2008.  Hungary is my second home, and I am greatly concerned.  As an artist, what can I do?  I can put the words of the most incredible writer I have ever read, whose work is so timely and so important in this very moment, on the stage and introduce him to as many people as possible.  This is why I am staging Kaddish now.

What is your relationship to the famous novel, and how did you adapt it for the stage?

If one is going to stage a novel written by Imre Kertész, one needs permission from both Imre Kertész and his translator, Tim Wilkinson.  Through a series of angels I met in New York, I was able to make contact first with Imre’s wife, Magda Kertész, and then Imre himself.  The Kertész’s have been nothing but supportive of this project from the beginning.  They too want Imre’s voice heard by as many audience members as possible, as does Imre’s translator and dear friend, Tim Wilkinson.  These are three incredible people; I am so grateful for their trust and generosity.

Imre Kertész has very specific requirements when staging his work.  No adaptations are allowed.  You must not add to his words or rewrite them in any way.  You can edit as far as taking out sections of text and re-ordering the text that remains, but that is the only manipulation allowed.  And he has final approval of the edits.  This is the process Jake and I went through as editors of Kaddish for an Unborn Child into Kaddish for the stage.  We worked closely with Imre and Magda to achieve a final version everyone agreed was most in line with the heart of the novel.  So, Kaddish is a 55 minute piece that includes a little less than half of the content of the novel.  It is an abridged version.  But the words are all Imre Kertész.

As far as the staging is concerned, people will have to come see that for themselves…

I was in Budapest two weeks ago, and a dream came true: I met Imre and Magda Kertész.  Six days after that incredible meeting, my beloved grandmother passed away.  It is deeply moving to me that Jake and I will be mounting Kaddish in Baltimore just days after saying my final goodbye to my grandmother.  She was the initial inspiration for this piece, so it only seems fitting.  On opening night this Thursday, after Jake and Imre take us on an incredible journey, I will be saying kaddish for Ilona Boros.  These three performances at Single Carrot are dedicated to her.

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On March 27, 2013

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