Seder – Review by Bonnie Goldberg

All religions have traditions and ceremonies. In the Jewish religion, one of the most treasured celebrations is the Passover Seder, held every spring, to commemorate the release of the Israelites from bondage in Egypt. A special meal is prepared and a book about the symbols and story, the Haggadah, is read. To learn more about this holy holiday, attend the world premiere of Sarah Gancher’s complicated family drama “Seder” at the Hartford Stage until Sunday, November 12.

A Seder, a word that means order, is a family gathering were tradition reigns and the years of being slaves are remembered, with such items as bitter herbs to show the harshness of captivity, salt water for tears, charoset (a mixture of apples, nuts and wine) for the bricks and mortar with which pyramids were built, matzoh (unleavened bread) to remember the haste of fleeing, a roasted egg for a festival offering, a shankbone for a sacrificial lamb and parsley for spring and
renewal.

For one family in Hungary, this is their first celebration ever, now that the Berlin Wall is down and the reign of Communism and Stalinism is over. Now they are free to gather. But what happens at their table is a mixture of joy tossed with a hearty trip into the past. Secrets long buried are brought to center stage when an estranged older daughter Judit, a fiery and angry Birgit Huppuch, returns to the family nest after an absence of thirteen years.

While her siblings Margit (Julia Sirna-Frest) and to a much lesser extent brother Laci, a forgiving Dustin Ingram, are happy for a family reunion, Judit has a specific agenda: to confront their mother Erzsike, a challenged Mia Dillon, for her acts during the war. Erzsike is forced to relive those troubled years in a series of flashbacks and defend her actions. What was her relationship with her boss Attila, a stern and forbidding Jeremy Webb, and her forced marriage to a man she did not love, Tamas (Liam Craig).

This confrontation, laced with accusations, has been forced by the opening of a new museum, the House of Terror, paying homage to all those tortured and killed there. A wall of photographs identifying their murderers is prominently featured and Judit has placed her mother’s face there for the world to see. In her new role as head of the museum, Judit is in the unique position to act as accuser, judge and jury over her mother’s past. What role will David (Steven Rattazzi, a guest
at the feast and a psychologist , play in the ensuing family crisis? Will those gathered be able to forgive and forget the past? Elizabeth Williamson directs their intensely uncomfortable celebration where joy should have had a seat of honor.

For tickets ($25 and up), call the Hartford Stage, 50 Church Street, Hartford at 860-527-5151 or online at www.hartfordstage.org. Performances are Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., with matinees Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m.

Take a seat at the Seder table to become intimately involved in this true family drama where the past and the present collide to predict the uncertain future. You may need be fortified by the four cups of ritual wine.

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