Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Λυσιστράτη 2014 (Lysistrata)

My kids love theatre. We go perhaps just once a year, when the travelling theatre groups come to Hania in the summer and perform in each town's open-air theatre, whose layout is of course based on ancient Greek architecture. We prefer to watch the modern renditions of ancient Greek plays, which more often than not make direct references to today's problems plaguing Greek society. It is uncanny the way that the problems of two or three thousand years ago are very similar to our own ones: not enough money, bad statesmen, too much war.

Last night, we went to a performance of Lysistrata (or Lysistrati, as we call it in Greek). The actors were well known names, highly familiar to all Greeks, as they had all starred in TV series that had screened last season. The storyline is based on a strike by Aristophanes, originally performed in classical Athens in 411 BC. It seems that striking is a basic Greek tenet, and ancient Greeks knew the concept quite well, which refutes a hypothesis often postulated by the not-Greeks, who argue that modern Greeks are not derived from ancient Greeks, but are some kind of pot pourri based on their conquerors: such not-Greeks are highly ignorant, but more significantly, they seem to do their best to find a way to 'prove' to the world that the ancient Greek world belongs to the whole world, and constitutes some kind of global heritage, which of course it does, since European civilisation irrefutably started in the Greek world. In other words, it's still all Greek to them.

Getting back to the strike in Aristophanes' 411 BC play, it was staged for similar reasons as strikes are nowadays: to force someone to give you what you want. The women went on a sex strike, staging a sit-in (yeah, that too!) at the Acropolis (the very one ransacked on Elgin's orders), in order to get their menfolk to stop going to war, demanding Peace, which they secure. This is followed by song and dance.

At the end of the show, my children asked to stay on at the theatre in order to see the stars of the show, grab an autograph and get photographed with them. Our Greek actors are such humble people. They have so much sympathy for their fellow compatriots, especially children. After their stunning performance, they stayed as long as it took for everyone who wanted to have their photos taken with them and to sign autographs, smiling throughout the whole period. I snapped photos of the kids with each of the main stars:

Θανάσης Τσαλταμπάσης,

Νάντια Κοντογεώργη,

Αντώνης Λουδάρος,

Καίτη Κωνσταντίνου,

and finally...

Μαρία Καβογιάννη,

When I took the final shot with Μαρία Καβογιάννη - Maria Kavogianni, a thought suddenly occurred to me, that it should have been ME and not just my kids who wanted to be photographed standing next to her. I realised that I should have been the one thanking this woman for the 25 years I have enjoyed watching her on TV comedies. She played the young maid who came from a small village to live in a house of a rich family in the comedy Ντολτσε Βιτα (1995-96). This series was preceded by other comedies in the heyday of private Greek TV, but the actors and the scripts in those early shows (eg Οι Τρεις Χαριτες, Οι Απαράδεκτοι) were too sophisticated for my at-the-time naive knowledge of Greek identity when I first moved here in 1991. I needed a bit more time to adjust to Greek reality before I understood them.

Over the years, Maria Kavogiannis' roles have changed in a similar way to my own life: while I was a young English teacher for young children in a working class neighbourhood of Athens which had suddenly become rich, she was playing the village-girl maid of the rich Athenian business people with very busy sex lives in the comedy series Dolce Vita. Like all of us, she picked up the ways of the rich and modern very quickly, as we were all trying to acclimatise to the 'new Greece' with its seeming shift towards Europeanisation. Just a few years later, she starred in Safe Sex (1999) as the wife of one of the two couples who wanted to spice up their sex life by exchanging partners, but changed her mind at the last minute, as if reminding herself to return to her senses. (Yes, she was in the minority, like most sensible were among the laissez faire Greek world of the past.)

Nowadays, she plays the kind of roles that represent most Greek women: tired mothers trying to hold their family together, as in the crisis-related comedy Πίσω στο Σπίτι which translates to 'Returning home', alluding to the situation many young Greeks find themselves in nowadays: her screen son on that show was Θανάσης Τσαλταμπάσης who was also performing in Lysistrata that night (see the photos above).

I told Maria that she was one of the first actresses whose roles I really liked and could relate to 20-odd years ago when I was still a newish arrival in Greece, and she asked me where I was from. I told her I was born in New Zealand, and she said:
"All the way from New Zealand! And look who brought us together: ancient Greek theatre, uniting the whole world, with the compliments of Lysistrati!" (Lysistrati = lysi-strati = 'army disbander') 

I guess she had the same ideas in her head as I had in my own that night. And we both look so similar: Greek women carrying on doing what we've always been doing, like most other Greek women - working for the family, worrying about our family's future and trying to keep the peace. I may not know much about Maria's family, but I don't think I'm far wrong on this one.

And if you are wondering why the walls behind the actors look so old, it's because they really are old - Hania has the longest continuous and uninterrupted inhabitation of any European city, since 3,500 BC. The walls are over 700 years old, built during the reign of the Venetians.  

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