SQUAT - short for squatters- is an exiled Hungarian experimental theatre that began working as a group in Budapest in 1969. For the last year and a half it has been nomadic, performing throughout Western Europe and making its American debut last June at the New Theatre Festival in Baltimore. The company is now in residence in New York and will be fetured in the forthcoming Bunch Festival of experimental theatre.
Banned in Budapest for a performance that was considered by the authorities to be "obscene" and "apt to be misinterpreted from a political point of view", in its new work, entitled "Pig, Child, Fire!" Squat certainly deserves that double charge. In one other respect - its involvement of children - the production is also reprehensible.
The current play is derived from the Theatre of Cruelty, and in keeping with that fact the minimal prepared text is taken from the writings of Artaud and Dostoyevsky. Mloments of "Pig, Child, Fire!" are vicous, violent, lewd and tasteless. It is more revolting than it is revolutionary. At odd moments, it is also bizarrely comic. As a theatre piece it makes an imprint as scarring as a tattoo.
The play is serial rather than progressive. We could watch it backwards and it would still have the same effect. In the use of stage pictures, the merging of several media and the expansion of perspective, it is distantly related to some American experimental companies. But where other groups - and playwrights - are dedicated to creating art, Squat seems more interested in arresting an audience. As an exercise in experience, it is a throwback to Happenings. "Pig, Child, Fire!" is a performance in which the audience is half of the performance, our reaction is a primary ingredient.
The event takes place on the first floor of a storefront on West 23rd street. A curtain is opened and through a window we see the street. The street is an essential part of the performance. At approximately 9:30 pm a taxicab pulls up outside, a bearded man gets out, and points a gun across 23rd street. A man on the other side of the road points a gun at him. Inside the theatre a woman has the first man in her gunsight.
My shock was deepened by the fact that the street scene was uninterrupted by passers by - although later a police officer checked a lock on the thetare's door, was he an actor? Are drown weapons a common occurence on West 23rd street? Or did people think that a movie was being filmed. Throughout the show, the street is filled with disturbing episodes. At one point the bearded man walks past the window with an arm completely enveloped in flames.
Inside the theatre the actors present disconnected dramatic vinettes. The first concerns a giant puppet standing on its head, a hanging man emerging from its anus, a severed hand and a live goat - a substitution for the pig of the title - and the recitation of Starvrogin's confession from the "Possessed". At no point can it be said that the actors are acting; the vocalisation has all the expressiveness of a bored receptionist. Occasionally, there are moments of grotesque, even of vaudeville, as is everything, with a straight, stony face.
In the scene intitled "Dinner", a mother and four children gather at the dinner table, on which rest a television set. The images on the screen are of us in the audience, including the woman in front of me who was shielding her face with a piece of paper. The comment is clear. We are performers. Life is theatre. This is the most definitive demonstration of Squat's apparent purpose - to erase the barrier betwen actor and spectator.
New York Times, November 17, 1977
Mel Gussow,"Stage: Squat Abuses West 23rd Street"
Banned in Budapest
PIG, CHILD, FIRE! produced, written, directed and performed by the Squat Theatre, at 256 West 23rd Street
WITH: Anna Koos, Eva Buchmuller, Marianne Kollar, Peter Halasz, Peter Breznyik, Istvan Balint, Galus Halasz, Eszter Balint, Borbala Major, Rebeka Major, Agnes Santha and Clara Palotay.
Anna Koos in "Stavrogin's Confession" Pig, Child, Fire!