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Published: Saturday, 12/22/2001

Hungarian play may take final bow

BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE RELIGION EDITOR
Cast members of Bethlehemes Jatek, including the fierce `oreg,' or old men, in foreground and shepherds in background, rehearse for Christmas eve performance at St. Stephen's Church. Cast members of Bethlehemes Jatek, including the fierce `oreg,' or old men, in foreground and shepherds in background, rehearse for Christmas eve performance at St. Stephen's Church.
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Bethlehemes Jatek, a traditional Hungarian Nativity play, may be making its final curtain call Christmas eve, when it will be performed during midnight Mass at St. Stephen's Church in East Toledo.

Organizers of the play, which dates back hundreds of years in its native country, have not been able to enlist enough young, Hungarian-speaking actors to keep it going.

The 15-minute play involves a cast of shepherds, angels, and mean-looking “oreg,” or old men, who discuss the birth of the Christ child.

“I'm one of the old guys in the play,” said Bob Kertesz, 63. “There are some shepherds who are scared out of their wits and try to convince us to go to Bethlehem to see baby Jesus.

“This will probably be the last play,” said Mr. Kertesz, who has been performing in Bethlemes Jatek since he was 13 years old. “We've tried to recruit some younger people but it hasn't worked.”

The local veterans were forced to skip the play for two years, in 1996 and '97, but found some new actors to revive it in 1998.

Mr. Kertesz said he wrote out the Hungarian words phonetically for actors who don't speak Hungarian. The cast also printed a pamphlet with the script translated into English to make it easier for audiences to follow.

Many Hungarians settled in the Birmingham neighborhood of East Toledo in the late 1800s, but the area's identity has become less ethnic over the last few decades.

The local production of Behlehemes Jatek also struggled in the 1970s, but when the actors made a video of the play in 1976 it renewed interest in it that remained strong for two decades.

Mr. Kertesz said he took a trip to Hungary this year, to his ancestral village of Keresttete, and at one point began singing a song from Bethlehemes Jatek. Suddenly a nearby stranger joined in and sang along.

“He knew every word, exactly the same as we do it here,” Mr. Kertesz said.

“Bethlehemes Jatek” will be presented at the midnight Mass on Christmas eve at St. Stephen's Catholic Church, 1880 Genesee St. at Consaul in East Toledo.



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