Theatre of Death

Peter Halasz, 62, Playwright Who Staged His Funeral as Theater, Is Dead
By Wolfgang Saxon

Published: March 17, 2006

Peter Halasz, a Hungarian-born avant-garde playwright, actor and director, who founded the Squat/Love Theater collective, an Off Off Broadway ensemble of the 1980's, died last Thursday at the home of a daughter in Brooklyn. He was 62 and lived in Budapest and Staten Island.

The death was announced by his family and on the Web site

Mr. Halasz died just a month after staging his own funeral on Feb. 6 at an art museum in Budapest, where he was born. The Berlin newspaper Tagesspiegel reported that he had himself enclosed in a coffin for a final farewell to friends and hundreds of theater fans.

"I'm curious how a funeral looks from the other side," Mr. Halasz told the BBC World Service's "Outlook" program as he prepared for what he termed his last appearance. "I want to take a look at my friends and listen to the eulogies."

Peter Halasz was considered a pioneer of the free-spirited theater scene in Hungary, arousing the suspicions of Communist cultural functionaries with the first theater company he founded in 1966. Barred from performing in public in 1972, he took his players underground to perform, mostly in private homes. The ensemble left Hungary in 1976, and after a stopover in Western Europe, settled in Manhattan the next year, associating for a time with Andy Warhol and taking cues from happenings and conceptual performance art of the time.
The collective became known as Squat and received attention with award-winning pieces like "Mr. Dead and Mrs. Free." Two other well-known productions in its repertory were "Pig, Child, Fire!" and "Andy Warhol's Last Love."

In 1987, Mr. Halasz presented his play "Ambition," adapted from the André Maurois story "Palace Hotel Thanatos," at La MaMa in Manhattan. Mel Gussow of The New York Times described it as an inventive "experiment in the use of film as a scenic, three-dimensional background for live theater."

Another noted production was "She Who Once Was the Helmet-Maker's Beautiful Wife," by Mr. Halasz and Seth Tillett, first staged in 1992 at the Performing Garage in SoHo.

With the fall of Communism in his native country, Mr. Halasz spent more time there in the theater and, in recent years, won prizes in independent European film productions.

Peter Halasz is survived by his wife, Agnes Santha of Staten Island; two daughters, Judith Halasz of Brooklyn, and Cora Fisher of Long Island City, Queens; two sons, Gabor and David, of Budapest; and a brother, Andras, also of Budapest.