Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

October 30, 2017


Hartford Stage, Hartford, CT 
through Nov. 12, 2017
by Bernadette Johnson

“Why is this night different from all other nights?” is the question asked by the youngest family member at a Seder, the ritual feast ushering in the yearly Jewish celebration of Passover. For the characters in Sarah Gancher’s “Seder,” a Hungarian family celebrating its first-ever Seder under the questionable guidance of an American neighbor, it is the backdrop upon which family secrets are exposed and political and moral judgments erupt. Without a doubt, this night is different for all concerned.

Set in 2002, the catalyst of the drama is the opening of the House of Terror museum in Budapest in the former headquarters of the Hungarian equivalents of both the SS and, later, the KGB. The family matriarch, Erzsike (Mia Dillon), who worked as a secretary in the building, discovers that her portrait has been hung on the museum’s “wall of perpetrators.”

Conflict…thy name is Judit (Birgit Huppuch), Erzsike’s estranged daughter reluctantly reuniting with the family on the occasion of their first Seder. Judit, ever the controversial activist and now curating the exhibit, launches into a tirade of accusations and denunciation against her mother. Huppuch’s passionate portrayal is relentless and in-your-face, infusing the role with palpable fury, her actions, expressions and demeanor as voluble as her accusations.

Dillon transitions smoothly from the distress of this confrontation to the past as flashbacks haunt her and she seeks to defend the morality of her actions. Huppuch and Dillon are powerful in their respective roles, and the drama that unfolds is riveting.

Gancher wisely injects humor into the situation, which might otherwise have been uncomfortably dark and depressing. Steven Rattazzi, the American neighbor David, a comic figure with an exaggerated accent (nationality?), is relentless and diverting in his attempt to restore order and make this Seder “happen.” Julia Sirna-Frest, as Margit, the younger sister, and Dustin Ingram, as brother Laci, try to make light of a hopeless situation, Ingram mocking Rattazzi’s accent and Sirna-Frest calmly affecting normalcy.

Erzsike’s “I am one person, a woman. What could I do?” is a question that is sure to reverberate in the minds of theatergoers, as is scenic designer Nick Vaughan’s “wall of perpetrators.” Exceptional direction by Elizabeth Williamson and fight choreography by Greg Webster. Kudos to Laura Stanczyk on her choice of this superb cast.