A native of Budapest, László Marton is one of the most important contemporary theatre directors in Hungary and is highly regarded internationally. He has been Artistic Director of the Vígszínház since 1987, which is one of the most outstanding theatres of Hungary since it was founded in 1896.
Mr. Marton’s international career started in 1974 in Germany at the National Theatre of Weimar. Since then his productions have been seen in more than thirty cities all over the world. He directed THE WILD DUCK by Frank McGuinness, after Ibsen, at the Peacock Theatre which was nominated for Best Production and for which László was awarded Best Director in the lrish Times/ESB Theatre Awards.
His production of DANCE IN TIME was recently presented at the Abbey as part ofthe Abbey’s centenary programme. He also directed for the Finnish National Theatre in Helsinki and several times in Germany. In the United States he directed nine productions for the famous Actors Theater of Louisville, the Court Theater in Chicago, the Clarence Brown Theater, Playmakers and the Sante Fe Festival. He also worked for the legendary Habima (the National Theatre of lsrael) many times. In recent years he directed several shows for the Toronto based Soulpepper Theatre, including his Chekhov interpretations, THREE SISTERS, PLATONOV AND UNCLE VANYA which were highly acclaimed by the critics intemationally.
His productions include A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM, THE SCHOOL FOR WIVES, A DOLL’S HOUSE, RICHARD III, THE SERVANT OF TWO MASTERS, MACBETH, THREE SISTERS, RICHARD II, PLATONOV , UNCLE VANYA, DEATH OF A SALESMAN and LEGEND OF A HORSE.
László’s many awards include The Order of Merit of the Hungarian Republic, the Pro Budapest Award and in Canada THREE SISTERS won the Dora Award for Best Production and PLATONOV also won the Dora Award for Best Production and Best Director. He has Honorary Membership of the London Guildhall School of Music and Drama, membership in the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers (USA) of which he was the first Hungarian member. This year he was honoured with the Kossuth Prize from the Hungarian Republic for his exemplary contribution to culturallife.
László Marton’s productions were seen in the following cities:
Banff, Belgrade, Berlin, Bratislava, Brno, Bucarest, Budapest, Chicago, Dublin, Kiev, Knoxville, London, Lousville, Moscow, Nancy, Ottawa, Prague, Saint Petersburg, Santa Fe, Tallin, Tel Aviv, Toronto, Vienna, Weimar, Warsaw
“Hungarian director Laszlo Marton makes a big impression in Chicago as director of Court Theatre’s production “The School for Wives”.
“Director Laszlo Marton’s a star in his native country and is becoming one in here”
By Richard Christiansen
Tribune Chief Critic
Laszlo Marton is not yet a household name in Chicago; but in Budapest, where he lives and works in the theatre, he is a major celebrity.
Jon Jory, artistic director of the Actor’s Theatre of Louisville, had occasion to witness this in the late 1970’s, when his company played Hungary as part of a European tour. “Walking down the street with Laszlo Marton in Budapest is like walking down the street with Robert Redford in Beverly Hills. He’s a star. He walks on water,” Jory says.
This is not quite true. But it is a fact that Marton , gracious and gentlemanly in every action, is a very popular figure in his native city. Not only that. He seems to be on a first-name basis with every other celebrated Hungarian of the 20th century.
Two years ago, when Marton first came to Chicago as a guest director at Court Theatre, he literally ran into Georg Solti in the lobby of the Drake Hotel.
As Marton recalls the incident: „Georg looked at me with great surprise and said, ‘Laszlo, what are you doing here?’ When I told him, we sat down for a cup of coffee and he told me what a great city Chicago was and how I should try to work here as often as I could. He even talked about a collaboration with the Chicago Symphony.”
Marton, 55, comes from a wealthy and cultured background. His family tree is scattered with arts figures. One relative was literary agent for the Hungarian Ferenc Molnar, and another distant relative was Andrew Marton, co-director of the 1950 Hollywood movie, ”King Solomon’s Mines.”
In the late 40’s, however, with the Communists take-over of Hungary, ”My family lost everything in one night. One night, and we had nothing.”
But they still had style. „No matter, what the food was,” Marton says, „my mother always set the table with our best plates and linen.” And she gave her son a very useful piece of advice. „She told me that all I had left as an inheritance was what I had in my mind, and that therefore I should take very good care of that resource.”
Following his interest in theatre, Marton was graduated as a stage director from Budapest’s Academy of Dramatic Art in 1967 and became an artist of Theatre Vígszínház (Comedy Theatre), one of Budapest’s leading repertory houses. In 1979 rising from the ranks, he became the theatre’s artistic director, a post he holds to this day.
Under the Communist regime, Marton had his run-ins with the authorities. Denied permission to stage a production for the Habima theatre in Tel Aviv, Israel, he snuck out of the country anyway, directed the play and returned home amid threats of losing his job and his freedom.
He weathered that storm, and he was even able to introduce strong political subtexts into his productions. For example, there is Moliere’s „The School for Wives” , which is Marton’s current production through Feb. 1, at Court Theatre in Chicago. It’s a comedy about an older man who is determined to marry a teenage girl he has kept under lock and key. When Marton first staged it in Budapest in the Communist years, his vision of the play made it clear to his audience that the frustrated old man was Russia and the young virgin he wanted to put under his domination was Hungary.
After the Communist government fell, Marton moved his company into a temporary home in a portable tent and spent three years rebuilding and and restoring his theatre. He did away with the heavy Stalinesque drabness and brought back some of the 19th Century Old World elegance to its decoration. When the theatre reopened in 1994, he premiered „Let’s Dance Together” , a drama with music and dance celebrating Hungary’s 20th century history. A huge hit, it is still on the theatre’s repertory.
Today, in addition to teaching at the Academy of Dramatic Art, he supervises Theatre Vig’s operations in its three Budapest locations: the main stage , a smaller theatre on the city’s central shopping street and an intimate chamber theatre. Theatre Vig receives 50 percent of its budget from the government and has 16,000 subscribers. Last season, Marton says, the combined three theatres played to a total of 440,000 customers, about one-tenth of the estimated 4 million tickets sold for theatre in Budapest in a single year.
Increasingly since the early 1980s, Marton has travelled abroad to direct classic and contemporary works.
He has staged plays in Germany, Finland, Israel, Canada and the United States, beginning with “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, one of his “specialties”, in Louisville in 1983. In all, he has directed nine shows for Actors Theatre, including the strictly American musical “Little Shop of Horrors”.
“He really knows how to read a script,” Jory says of Marton. “He always finds an animating metaphor, a central idea of what the play is about. He is also wonderfully theatrical, and he has a fabulous sense of a play’s internal rhythm.
“Besides all that, he is one of nature’s great gentlemen. I have never seen him do anything meanspirited, in the theatre or out of it.”
This high estimate is echoed by Charles Newell, Court’s artistic director, who heard about Marton’s work in Louisville and signed him to stage Molnar’s “The Play’s the Thing” for Court in 1996. Out of that successful production came the invitation to do “The School for Wives”.
“Actors love Laszlo,” Newell says. He treats them with great respect and affection and they know they are safe and in good hands with him. They’ll follow him anywhere.” (Hollis Resnik, the Chicago actress who appeared at Court in “The Play’s the Thing”, flew to Santa Fe last summer to star in a production of Molnar’s The Guardsman that Marton staged for Santa Fe Stages.)
Marton left Chicago for Budapest just before “The School for Wives” opened early this month at Court. But Newell believes Marton will be back in the near future, perhaps to do “Dream”.
If so, Marton can hardly wait. A single father who brought his two sons, ages 5 and 7, with him for the Court assignment, he says, ”We love Chicago. They went to the Museum of Science and Industry almost every day, and I got a wonderful cast at Court.
Georg was right. It’s a great city.”