Composer. And if I may be free to ask, what were you before stepping onto the stage?
Ilonka. I was a orphan.
Composer. In the Hungarian State Orphanage?
Ilonka. Yes, if you please.
Composer. And how did you go to the theater from there?
Ilonka. The orphanage faced the theater, if you please, and every time angels appeared in some spectacular play, they sent across to the orphanage for angels. They always picked me, because they said I had a sad little face and nevertheless was impudent enough. There on the stage I became attached to the prompter, because we always sang there in front of the hole. And one time after the song he whispered to me that I should become his wife, but I gestured ‘No’ with my wings. Then he whispered that that was fine, it was all the same to him, the main thing to him was that I not be alone in the world, if I did not want to be his wife then I should be his daughter, he would gladly adopt me as his child. Then I gestured down into the hole that we could speak about that. I felt pity at such a poor lonely old man who lived in such a dark hole. I was adopted not long after that. They called him Sobri, I kiss your hand.
Composer. I beg your pardon, do not always say ‘I kiss your hand’ to me. I am not a priest.
Ilonka. I see that.
Composer. Well, then, why do you say it?
Ilonka. It’s such a modest habit, if you please. It was the fashion in the theater company. We were accustomed to say it to dear sweet men. Those we respected: editors, mayors, head physicians, furriers.
Ilonka. Never, I kiss your hand. Those were generally such frightened jackrabbits.
Composer. Managing directors?
Ilonka. Them, not so much.
Several mildly tricky bits. Ilonka said “State Hungarian orphan” and the composer said “orphanage” in the original; I’ve changed that to “orphan” and “Hungarian State Orphanage”, shifting the specific adjectives to a different noun, a different order, and a different speaker. I’m pretty sure, based on context, that “hitták” (“they believed”) was a typo for “hívták” (“they called”), or possibly a regional variation. I translated “ugráló”, a person who jumps, as “jackrabbit”. Later in the text Ilonka uses a word that’s evidently a Slovakian regionalism, as it’s not in any of my dictionaries and the composer doesn’t recognize it; I can guess the approximate meaning from context, but I have to think of how to translate it into something that’s almost but not quite recognizable as English.
Ilonka uses “kezit csókolom”, an oddly spelled variant of “kezét csókolom”, which means “I kiss your hand” a lot. It’s one of those expressions which, like “I tip my hat to you” in English, is seldom accompanied by the physical gesture it describes. (At a Washington Stage Guild production of Molnár’s “Husbands and Lovers” last month, the actor literally kissed the woman’s hand as he said this, which to me felt like an unfortunate absence of verisimilitude; I expect the rest of the audience would have been just as discomfited if he hadn’t.) I might have been tempted to find an approximate English equivalent, if the composer hadn’t drawn attention to the verbal tic.