JÁNOS HÁY: THE DEADMAN                                                                      

2017, Drama

Characters: 2 women, 1 man, 1 young girl, additional children, other male roles played by one or two actors


Before the story begins, Anna and the Man fall in love, marry and have a child, little Annie. They live well, and they are happy. Then comes the war, and the husband, along with many other village men, is conscripted as a soldier. Those who remain at home – especially the children – wait agonizingly day after day for the postman. Out of the blue, a telegraph arrives that János (the Man) has died. The dead body arrives home soon afterward and is buried. Anna tries to go on living, not allowing herself even one moment of mourning. She banishes the man she once loved to the depths of her consciousness and concentrates all her nerves on survival. In her monologues, the tiny details paint a picture of the life: the wood used to build the pig pen, what she chats about with the women while hoeing... Out of all these mosaic pieces, the simple life and world of a village woman takes shape. Meanwhile, the returning men begin wandering back from the war. They are all gloomy, tight-lipped and alienated from their families. Neither the men nor the women are able to speak about the traumas. Meanwhile, the village gossips about Anna, presumed to be a widow. People are convinced that men pay her visits; yet, all the while, she does not surrender to anyone’s advances.

The drama’s conflict comes about, because the woman, believing her husband to be dead, cannot deal with the situation when he nevertheless returns all of a sudden. Young Annie’s joy, however, knows no bounds. She waited incessantly for her father to come home, not even believing he had died when he was already buried. While the mother strove to survive by erasing the past, the young girl did so by living in the past. For her, the news of her father’s death was always some inexplicable administrative blunder. This irrevocably overturns the mental balance of the woman, who resigned herself to a life of solitude. Their lovemaking becomes unbearable for her, as though the weight of a dead man were lying on top of her. Indeed, in her mind, the man is truly dead, and ‘order’ can only be restored if he really is dead – so she kills him.

‘When I wrote this, I had in mind all sorts of losses where a woman loses the person with whom she has been planning a life together. Perhaps that person has left her, or comes home only once every six months, or is dead, and the woman must adapt to this loss. I also had in mind all the men who, after a desertion of this kind, want to return to the reality of the past, as if time had stood completely still. I had in mind all men and women who believe it is possible to step into another person’s past with ease, and whose murder will be practically unnoticed, like the slaughter of pigs before the Nativity Fast leading up to Christmas Eve.’ (János Háy)

János Háy was born in Vámosmikola, on Hungary’s border with Slovakia, on 1 April 1960) Attila József Prize-winning Hungarian author, poet, painter, illustrator and founder of the Palatinus Book Press.

In 2017, his play entitled The Deadman won the Dramaturge Guild’s award for the Season’s Best Hungarian drama.