Susan Granger’s review of “Seder” (Hartford Stage)
Not since “Judgment at Nuremberg” have I seen a play as powerful and persuasive about how much guilt and responsibility an individual must bear for crimes committed or condoned by her.
Set in 2002 in Budapest, Hungary, it begins with elderly Erzsike (Mia Dillon) touring the House of Terror, a museum of war atrocities, and spotting her own photograph prominently displayed on the Wall of Murderers.
That night, Erzsike’s younger daughter, Margit (Julia Sirna-Frest), has invited an American friend, David (Steven Rattzii), to their apartment to show them how to celebrate the Jewish Seder, or Passover.
Years ago, Erzsike rejected her Jewish heritage but she’s agreed to this uneasy family gathering in hopes of reuniting with her long-estranged older daughter Judit (Brigit Huppuch).
The Seder ceremony recalls the exodus of the Jews from Egypt. As the dinner ritual unfolds, sinister family secrets are spilled, revolving around Judit’s outrage over Erzsike’s involvement while working as a typist for the AVO (Hungary’s KGB).
“I did the best I could,” Erzsike says, defensively. “I just did what I was told.”
“A good person stands up for humanity,” self-righteous Judit retorts in a fiery exchange.
Heading the superb acting ensemble, Mia Dillon delivers a disturbingly textured portrait, miraculously transforming into her younger self in flashbacks, relating how she risked exposure by altering records of innocent prisoners and why she sexually succumbed to her predatory boss Attila (Jeremy Webb), who arranged her marriage to the late Tamas (Liam Craig).
Playwright Sarah Gancher, collaborating with director Elizabeth Williamson, illuminates this true story with intensity, vision and imagination. The authenticity is amplified by Nick Vaughan’s evocative set, Ilona Somogyi’s costumes, Marcus Dilliard’s lighting and Jane Shaw’s sound.
In addition, the Hartford Stage provides fascinating information about post-WWII Hungarian history in the playbill and on wall displays.
“Seder” has just received The Edgerton Foundation’s New Play Award – and it’s richly deserved.
“Seder” runs through November 12 at the Hartford Stage. For tickets, call the box-office at 860-527-5151 or visit www.hartfordstage.org.