By Imre Kertész
Directed by Gia Forakis
Produced by SceneHouse Productions and Gia Forakis&Company
Nominations Adam Boncz is nominated for Outstanding Solo Performance
Photos by Jonathan Slaff
About this Production
Fatelessness is the world premiere of a solo performance adapted from the novel by Imre Kertesz, a Nobel Prize-winning author who is himself a survivor of the Nazi death camps. The 75-minute monologue is performed by Hungarian actor Adam Boncz, who is the first to have exclusive rights to adapt the novel for the stage.
In the summer of 1944, the 14-year old Hungarian boy, Gyuri Köves, is taken off a bus on his way to work and sent to Buchenwald. In a place called a “work camp” he finds starvation, selfishness and death but he also discovers a sense of order, wonder and camaraderie, along with something he had never understood before –what it means to be Jewish. It is a story, told with the guileless perspective of Gyuri, as he is introduced, step by step, to a place unlike any he has ever seen before -at once an establishment of extreme order and efficiency while at the same time a strange nightmare of new experiences and unfathomable realities. The result is an alarming, charming and uncharacteristically ironic tale of one of the darkest examples of systematic cruelty, and calculated horror of the 20th century. It is through Gyuri’s naïve, and sometimes indignant, point of view that his steps toward freedom are set in motion: this is his gift, and the fate that no one can take away from him as long as he continues to remember…
Performer Adam Boncz and Director Gia Forakis talk about their multi-year journey to take this world renown work about the Holocaust and adapt it for the stage.
Adam: Our company, SceneHouse Productions is dedicated to enriching the American cultural life by introducing new, eastern European works to the New York stage and film scene. Our productions are always a collaboration of international artists in order to experiment with cultural dialogue and artistic influence between the two continents.
Our production of Fatelessness is the world premiere of the stage adaptation of the only Nobel Prize winner Hungarian writer, Imre Kertesz. Fatelessness is one of the most famous novels of the contemporary European literature and it is probably the most significant piece of literature of my native Hungarian culture. We were the first ones who got permission from the author to make a stage adaptation, and I was fascinated to see if we could translate this piece of literature to the stage. The book has a very unique and one of a kind perspective on the darkest times of history, and it was a tremendously fascinating challenge for us to adapt this renowned book and faithfully communicate this perspective on stage.
Gia: When Adam invited me to help him adapt and to direct Fatelessness for the stage as a one man show, the first thing that attracted me to the project was simply Adam Boncz himself! I did not know the material, but I trusted Adam's taste. I had worked with him in the past so not only did I know he was a terrific actor with great instincts, but I also knew him to be a wonderful collaborator. Adam happens to possess a special kind of charisma that I knew would carry a 75-90min one-man show. Additionally, Adam happens to be a physically expressive actor, which matches my own directorial aesthetic. He has studied One-Thought-One-Action with me, so we already shared a common vocabulary, and Adam also happens to be one of the founding member actors of GF&CO (Gia Forakis & Company), so his proposal to create an original production not only matched GF&CO's mission, but it was something that, in the back of my mind, I thought would be a strong choice for a co-production with Scene House Productions.
What was your favorite part of working on this production?
Adam: One of the favorite part of the process was to assemble and work with a group of international artists on this project. We had Romanian playwright Andras Visky as our dramaturg, American director Gia Forakis, Colombian born Federico Restrepo as our lighting designer and Hungarian Balint Varga as our composer. All of them brought their own, very unique perspective that resulted in a real collaboration between international artists. It was fascinating to work with this diverse group and I was extremely happy with the result.
Even though it is a solo performance, I do have partners on stage. We used countless sound, music and light cues as well as projections to create a full theatrical experience. When all these elements started to work like a clockwork and were in sync with me on the stage, it was an amazing experience. I was performing alone on stage but many people backstage supported my work and performance. This collaboration was truly great.
Gia: I spent 10 years as a solo-performance artist creating and performing my own work for the stage, before focusing my career on directing. So, one of the things I enjoyed the most about working on Fatelessness was bringing that knowledge to the process---being able to trust the power of the solo performance, and that I was able to pass on all that experience.
What was the most challenging part of working on this production?
Adam: It was a daunting task to adapt a nearly 350 page, well known novel to a one hour solo performance. Dramaturg Andras Visky, Gia Forakis and myself worked for almost three years to develop (through residencies, staged readings and the rehearsal process) a script that is faithful to the original material. The research on the subject and interviewing Holocaust survivors was the hardest part of the preparation for the role. I've encountered many disturbing and horrific stories. Even harder was to relive the story of Gyuri in the concentration camp night after night during the run of the show. It was especially difficult when I knew that there were real Holocaust survivors sitting in the first row, watching me reliving their memories.
The other big challenge was to coordinate all the technical elements we used (tons of light cues, sound and music cues and projections) with a very short tech time. Luckily, thanks to our designers’ professionalism and the immense help from HERE Arts Center we managed to tackle all the difficulties.
Gia: Well, there was defining what the word Fatelessness means, but I'll say that the most challenging part of the project was keeping everyone on the team, including Adam himself, away from the propensity to make sentimental choices. This meant the original musical compositions, the set, lighting, video and sound design, everything had to steer away from the inclination to reflect the idea of what a Holocaust story should be. It was curious how insidiously the sentimental choice would creep into the work. This caused some tension and required a fim conviction in what we were doing. We needed to trust the writing (after all it had won a Nobel Prize) and that the audience would take the journey despite the inherent irony of the text or the choices to encourage laughter in the first half of the play despite the fear that this might be seen as disrespectful, or that the character of Gyuri was heartless. But, these were the choices that helped to deepen the impact of what was to come.
What was the most interesting part of the production for you?
Adam: Although the show's subject is the Holocaust, we created a productions that has many light, humorous and heartfelt moments. These moments infused in the touching story of Gyuri should inspire audiences to reconsider the meaning of true happiness, how and why do we make our choices in life and what it really means to be different.
Of course meeting and talking to Nobel prize winner Imre Kertesz was an amazing experience. Mr. Kertesz is one of the most prominent figures of contemporary literature and his support and the friendship that developed between us during the development process is invaluable for me.
Gia: Someone said, in describing the book Fatelessness, that it's as if Holden Caulfield (the narrator in the novel Catcher in The Rye) went to a concentration camp and lived to tell you the story. In Fatelessnes our narrator is Gyuri, whose story is told with the arrogance of adolescence and the guileless perspective of a teenage boy. Gyuri does not speak or understand Hebrew, or celebrate Jewish holidays and is embarrassed about the yellow star he has to wear. The world is his playground, and the authority of adults is to be cleverly sidestepped and mocked. When he and his friends are taken off a public bus and rerouted to a "work camp" he sees this as an adventure. What follows is the transformation of a young man as he is introduced to a place unlike any he has ever seen before, at once a magnificent demonstration of order and efficiency and also strange nightmare of new experiences and unfathomable horrors. Through Gyuri’s naïve, and often indignant, point of view we experience his growth from ignorance to awareness as a portal into our own areas of blindness and culpability.
What do you want the audience to come away with after watching your production?
Adam: It is strange to say, but we hope that by seeing this Holocaust themed show, people will leave the theater with a new appreciation for life.
Gia: I am going to answer with a personal anecdote. When it came time to prepare my Director's Bio for the program it dawned on me that the general public isn't going to know from my professional list of credits and credentials that I am half Jewish. Although my father's family is Greek Orthodox, my mother's family is Jewish. In the Jewish tradition that makes me fully Jewish -not half. So, I wondered for half a second if it was important to acknowledge my heritage or if it was it "unprofessional"? And that's when I knew I had to mention it, because I heard in my question that there is no question. If I had lived in Europe during WWII, it would have been highly likely that I would have been deported to a camp because my mother is Jewish. To not share my heritage would be to disrespect the play, those who died, and make me even more like young Gyuri than I already am --for I do not speak Hebrew, nor do I recognize the holidays with any special regularity. Gyuri survived. He didn't experience the fate of the millions who died in the camps. If their fate was to die, then Gyuri was left fate-less--without the fate that killed the others. Thus he was left to live a life of fate-less-ness. The moment that I added my heritage to my bio, this was a fatelessness moment for me. You do not need to be Jewish to find for yourself what fatelessness means for you, but that is what I hope others come away with from the production.