The Dice Man

The Dice Man is a contemporary Hungarian theatrical adaptation of a 1971 book with the same title, written by George Cockcroft.The book, thanks to its controversial topics, subversivity and sexuality, quickly gained cult status in many countries; the Hungarian adaptation for the stage, however, unfortunately, never will.

The book, released in the early seventies, contained some interesting new aspects considering the ways of humankind looking at itself, its psyche and its individual life, while having a refreshingly interesting storyline. Luke Rhinehart, a psychiatrist himself, realizes that his life has life has slipped into the dark mud of boredom: his work does not fulfil him at all (his only focus is on writing his major paper which he hasn’t even started yet, while his patients are nowhere near interesting either); his life at home is simply hell with his kids constantly yelling, and bashing each other like crazy; and finally, his sex life is like a Bentley (and he doesn’t have a Bentley) — with his wife they are arguing whether it’s that movie star on the TV at the moment or not while driving through the tunnel.  So our guy decides to start an experiment, and base all his future actions on the outcome of rolling a hexagonal dice. From this point on, of course, his life becomes a roller coaster, his decisions clash with himself as a psychiatrist, and finally, his private life becomes heaven / hell, whichever way we look at it.

The basics for a great play are there, it’s good, if not brilliant, we can say. However, the script András Vinnai, Júlia Róbert, Tamás Turai and Viktor Bodó have come up with is mostly about complete absurd madness, not even trying to consider the real and face-slapping effects of becoming such a self-appointed random number generator. In the play, everybody is goofy, mad, stupid or dement, there is not a single tiny island of normal, real world, compared to which, all the crazy happenings in the play would have their weight in the eyes of the audience. And without weight, the fun is gone too: all we get is a bunch of suffering characters, which, for almost two hours, are constantly trying to be funny, but simply are unable to. Throughout the almost two hours there was one single part where I was laughing, but even that one turned out to be something completely different, only made funny by coincidence, bad directing and bad acting (actors play multiple characters, and at the point I was thinking that the protagonist tells his best friend that he shagged his wife; when the guy got supportive though, because he wasn’t playing that particular friend at the moment, I stopped laughing and stayed like that for the rest of the play).

Luke’s life is depicted in a completely absurd way, not only from the point he starts throwing his dice around. The psychiatry he works at is too rigid, patients and doctors are completely out of line alike, or just have a random pointless dildo falling out from between their legs at work. We had no answer for why the horny maid who originally put the instrument to its place above is horny, got no big picture, got nothing, only random sparks with no connection between them at all, which, on their own, simply can’t survive.

The cast is average, at best. From the fourteen actors who are in the play, Fábián Gábor, who plays the protagonist, is there on stage for most of the time: this tiring exercise can maybe make up for the fact that he adds nothing extra to the character. The others are the same, too: nobody is bad, everybody does their job in a decent way apart from a nasty, but disturbing slip of a tongue here and there, but that’s it. Having seen The Complete Works of William Shakespeare two weeks before this one, where three English speaking actors literally swept and amazed the crowd, the cast of the Dice Man looked a bit amateurish, grey, and out of place.

Although there is a lot to criticise, there are good points in the play too, especially, if we look at the way it was directed. There are mistakes and pointless l’art pour l’art stuff in the directing as well, for example when director Viktor Bodó decides to cloth his male characters in thongs, but, these can partly be blamed on the bad script for having a gay party scene out of nowhere (do not misunderstand me, Bodó is to blame as well as he himself is a part of the team who wrote the script). However, there are really good experimental practices in the way the play is directed. The play is performed on a small stage mainly used for practicing, and this can have at least two major positive effects: one, the audience sits really close to the performers, can feel themselves as a part of the play (or could, if it wasn’t that bad). Two, you would never expect this many effects, sounds and lights alike when sitting onto a small stage used for practice. And the director uses these effects really well: there are parts when the actors, besides playing a scene onstage, play another scene with their shadows on the wall on the side. This looks great, and I have never seen this scene-in-a-scene kind of thing yet, using actors and their own shadows to display the two parallel things. Also, here are two, around ten-second long parts where the lights darken, and the protagonist imagines to kill his family and friends with an imaginary samurai sword and a shotgun, depicted only with moves and realistic sounds. The whole thing is extremely well choreographed, and while it only lasts for around ten seconds, afterwards you have to say: wow, this was completely badass.

Too bad this can’t be said at all after watching the whole performance.

Szputnyik Hajózási Társaság – Modern Színház- és Viselkedéskutató Intézet-Labor @ MU Theatre

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