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When the Going Gets Tough… Write a Musical May 16 2018

By Apara Borrowes

Marike Barnett and Istvan Ver holding a promotional poster for their show

Though well into their retirement years after distinguished careers, Marika Barnett and Istvan Ver have opened a whole new chapter of life. Residents of Lake Boon since 1994, they’ve written a musical which will debut at the La MaMa Theater in New York City.

“Five years ago, I was diagnosed with intestinal cancer,“ related Ver. “We knew it would be a long fight,” he said. Barnett added, “We had many different problems, but the most urgent was what to do with all that free time while waiting for the chemotherapy to start, waiting for the chemotherapy to end, waiting for assorted doctors, nurses, treatments – waiting, waiting, waiting.”

“We shall write a musical,” they agreed, and filled the waiting time writing dialogue, stage directions, and song lyrics for their play “Captain Filthy Fred.” Writing the play and creating humorous scenes made for fun and kept their minds off cancer.

“’Captain Filthy Fred’ is a full length, English language, fast moving outlandish fairy tale,” according to Barnett and Ver. “Our musical is loosely based on the book of a Hungarian writer, Jeno Rejto, who was killed by the Nazis in World War II,” said Barnett. Rejto is still a popular writer in Hungary, she noted.

 Barnett and Ver are Hungarian by birth but met in the United States. They both left Hungary in 1956 after the failure of the anti-Soviet Hungarian revolution. Barnett is Jewish, and survived the Holocaust hiding with a Gentile family in Pest, and in a Roman Catholic convent. She is a founding member of the International Federation of Child Survivors of the Holocaust.

Barnett observed, “The play really became a cultural event. For example, the Coronation Song is really about the troubled history of Hungary.” The producer and many of the actors are Hungarian.

The creation of the play is filled with “fortuitous happenings all along the way,” said Barnett. She and Ver related the unlikely fortune of events that helped get the play to the theater. They met a talented young Hollywood-based composer when they happened to sit next to him at a performance at Berklee College of Music. They talked at intermission, and Alan Wurman became their composer. He brought in arranger Victor Kong.

“Eva and Lajos Balogh have been very important for us,” added Barnett. “Without them we would still just keep amusing ourselves writing and rewriting this play.” This couple, friends from the Hungarian Society in Boston, asked to read the play then helped Barnett and Ver shape it further, and sent it to a friend in New York City, Timea Zsedely.

Zsedely is the owner of the Hungarian Bookstore in New York City, and is founder and director of Pilvax Players, a theater production company. Zsedely is producing the play and secured the La MaMa theater venue. “We thought this would be performed in a high school, but it is going to be performed in a prestigious experimental theater,” said Barnett.

Ver and Barnett were no strangers to theater when they set out to write this play. Barnett has written other plays including “The Eleventh Minute,” and “Perfect Match,” short plays which can be viewed on YouTube. The couple has served on the board of The Boston Playwrights Platform, where Captain Filthy Fred “was stage-read in its various incarnations,” said Ver.

As an acoustic engineer with an international reputation specializing in noise reduction, Ver consulted with architects on the “acoustic design of concert halls, opera houses and theaters,” among other projects. “He can quiet down everything but me,” joked Barnett.

“All the actors and crew are volunteers. The actors have hopes of being noticed by agents,” since this is an experimental theater where scouts do come regularly looking for talent, added Barnett.

Still, the play has costs. A March fundraiser at the Hungarian Embassy in Boston helped, but more funding is needed, noted Ver. They are considering having an Open House fundraiser.

“Marika and Istvan are really inspiring people,” reflected Wurman, in a phone conversation. “They’re very passionate about this play. We’ve worked well together. I feel the play is somehow a reflection of their life experiences mixed with the characters and story.”

“Young people today have a lot to learn from people like them,” Wurman continued. “They haven’t stopped believing dreams can come true. It’s great that people their age are so motivated to manifest a dream like this.”

“Truly, we had nothing but fun writing this musical,” said Barnett. “We’ve absolutely enjoyed it, and that was the purpose,” added Ver. “My daughter says she thinks this play has helped me stay alive,” remarked Ver, affirming he thinks she’s right.

Thinking of the upcoming performances, Barnett noted, “We will probably be floating in the air, near the ceiling, but we promise to drop down just to greet our friends.”

To hear a song from the musical, and to see an interview with Ver and Barnett, visit Captain Filthy Fred on Facebook. For tickets, call OvationTix: 212-352-3101.