HUNGARIAN-AMERICAN ROCK PLAY DEPENDS ON PESSIMISM TO WORK

Martin P. KellyDrama critic
Section: SHOW,  Page: H7

Date: Sunday, March 16, 1986

When Rose Deak first read the script for "An Imaginary ReportOn An American Rock Festival," she was struck by the lack of optimism. "The story centers on the life and death of a lostsoul," the Hungarian director said, pausing in her rehearsal schedule for the premiere of this musical by the Empire State Institute for the Performing Arts.


The opening last night at "The Egg" bridged the Hungarian andAmerican cultures first expressed in a short novel by then 70-year-old Tibor Dery. This product of the avant garde movement in the 1920s was influenced by the death of a young black ata Rolling Stones concert in Altamont, Calif., in 1969. The stabbing of the youth amid 300,000 rock fans set Dery's creative juices in motion; he transformed the event to Montana and offered two Hungarian emigres as the protagonists. As Deak explains it, the Hungarians, a man and a woman, are looking for roots in their new country and travel to the rock concert when violence erupts. They suffer the loneliness that can never be felt more strongly than when in the midst of a mob of strangers.


The veteran actress-director found the tranformation of the Hungarian stage success - it ran for eight years in Budapest - a revelation. Even though she had worked previously with the ESIPA troupe when she directed Molnar's "The Swan," she was still impressed to find that an individual actor in America is capable of singing, dancing and acting.


"In Hungary, you have to bring individual dancers, singers and actors together," she says. "Rarely, do you find a performerwho can do all three things well."


"It's a very human drama as well as being a musical," she says. "These very impressive song and dance numbers have to be balanced by a strong drama. The dramatic scenes meld with the songs and dances with about 50 percent of each."


Pat Birch, the director-choreographer who staged "Rag Dolly,"has directed the musical numbers for this production.


When asked for a comparable American musical, Deak thinks a moment and says: "West Side Story." By coincidence, that musical provided Birch with her first role on Broadway.


Deak insists that the musical parts must serve the dramatic line in which the young Hungarian couple, refugees from the struggles in Europe, seek refuge among the thousands of rock fansat the festival. "The main thing is the dramatic material," Deak says.


The two American actors playing the Hungarians emigrees - Jeanne Vigliante and Joe Larrabee-Quandt - brought a knowledge ofrock festivals to the roles but they had to be instructed on the backgrounds of Hungarians, especially during World War II. "A thousand years of Hungarian history was reviewed for them," the director explains.


"The girl is a refugee of the concentration camps of World War II," Deak says. "She and her husband are escapees as well as refugees, yet they represent more than Hungarians. There's a whole world full of these people."


The couple is drawn to the rock festival in the hope of belonging as so many young people sought this comfort in 1969. "Butthey are disappointed, especially after the tragedy," Deak says. "Still, there is a kind of healing in the end as they joinothers in cleaning up after the crowd has left."


The play, adapted by Hungarian Sandor Pos and given its American idiom by ESIPA's Bill Frankonis, remains true to Dery's novel. It is dark and passionate, but there is a ray of hope for the world as some of the fans linger to repair the wounds tothe earth caused by the refuse left by the crowd.


Deak explains some of the popularity of the work to the fact that Gabor Presser, a Hungarian rock superstar, wrote the music. "He is very popular so his fans came to see him and hear his music and were captivated by the dramatic force of the play," she explains.


Deak says there are exciting features to this production. "Imagine an older writer in his 70s able to identify himself withpeople so far away from him in time and space and that the outcome of this identification should have such a terrific effect on another much younger generation."


She smiles and says: "He manages to close the gap between them."