I: Despite the fact that there have been more than 50 women dramatists since 1960 (with a total of about 150 plays) very few theatre people are aware of their names or, if aware, willing to seriously examine them as a group. When non-Greek critics think of Greek drama they think mostly of classical drama (which happens to be male drama); and when Greek critics are not thinking of classical drama they think of modern male playwrights.
In other words, the recent trends towards the dis-covery, re-covery and/or un-covery of marginal and “other” discourses may have, thus far, done much to better the position of Greek women poets and novelists but hardly anything to better the position of Greek women playwrights; they are still ignored by critics and audiences alike. Even “legitimate” names like Constantina Vergou and Margarita Lymberaki, among others, receive less attention than their male counterparts and, sometimes, no attention at all (as in the case o Kostoula Metropoulou, who happens to be the most prolific dramatist to date). Only Lula Anagnostaki, the most popular and most produced woman playwright in the country, matches the attention paid to leading male dramatists like Ziogas, Matesis, Kambanellis, Maniotis, Mourselas, Pontikas etc.
This marginalization is what really tempted me to embark on this project, hoping to fill the sparsely occupied critical space by showing that, contrary to what the general public and the critical circles think, these women artists have produced, sometimes against the odds, a substantial body of work that deserves a more scholarly and unbiased attention. Having a general hypothesis concerning the essential characteristics of women’s drama in general and feminist drama in particular—the creation of important stage roles for women, concern with gender roles, politicization of sexuality, oppression and exploitation of women, among other things—I felt that it would not be very difficult to talk about this least discussed theatrical reality, its problems, resources, alternatives etc. While conducting my research I found out that although none of my starting ideas turned out to be entirely wrong, they were not as simple or accurate as I originally imagined. What I want to argue is that while women’s theatrical production in contemporary Greece is neither homogeneous nor feminist—at least nothing critics like Kristeva, Irigaray and Cixous, among others, would so call—nevertheless there is some “feminist” activity in their work that makes the closer investigation of their oeuvre not only inviting but also worthwhile. As a starting point towards this direction I think it is necessary to place the theatre in the context of its society. It is the claim of this paper that the place of Greek women in theatre has been a reflection of their place in the world.
II: The position of Greek women in society has been first and foremost influenced by the male doctrine that “a woman’s place is in the home” (Igglesi). Women for many decades lived and endured in a hierarchic society whose code was established by the patriarchy and whose ends naturally served the patriarchy. The emergence of the first feminist movement in the country (1920-1935) had a very limited impact on the state of things (Avdela, Psara 23-26). Very few people were willing to go out of their “safe” way and support the politics of the feminist agenda that included, among other things, the demand for equal rights at work, equal opportunities, better education for women, amendments in the legislature regarding family rights etc. Indifference was the norm (Avdela, Psara 26)— even for those women who started making their presence felt in the market and thus broadening the scope of their experience. What reigned supreme was an egocentric mentality, as Avdela and Psara support, that blocked the way towards a more dynamic and collective mobilization of women (23-250). Thus, under these conditions the connotation of “woman”—whether in sociological or literary terms and regardless of her socio-economic gains—continued to be that of a submissive, self-sacrificing humble soul, physically enclosed in the house and philosophically enclosed within the domestic sphere. To a large extent, Greek women in the first half of twentieth century were treated as the depository of traditional values, guardians of the home, whose archetype was the mother. These gender values, in combination with their weak economic position and their political subjugation to men, not only increased their vulnerability but also prevented them from affirming their own culture, generating their own theoretical and ideological discourse, uncovering their past and foregrounding its gender politics. As a result Greek women remained for years in the margins of society, colonized within the gender hierarchy of their own culture.
Until the coming of the first major women playwrights (long after the second World War) the place of women in the theatre, has mainly been that of flesh and blood image: as actress. The fact that the association between theatre and immorality still lent, well into the twentieth century, a certain notoriety to the acting profession, did not seem to stop women from joining the ranks of the profession. One can indeed speak of a distinguished tradition of female performers and female company owners of the last 100 years. These include, among others, greats like Kotopouli, Kyveli, Katerina, artists that dominated the athenian stage for decades (Grammatas 120-153). This tradition, however, should by no means be taken as an indication of the general improvement of women’s position either in the theatre or in society. Gifted as they were, these women pioneers have excelled for the most part in materializing the imaginative constructs of popular male authors and male directors that inlcuded among others Gr. Xenopoulos, P. Horn, Y. Kambysis, D. Bogris, D. Tangopoulos, Sp. Melas, in the case of modern Greek dramatists, and Shakespeare, Moliere, Goldoni, Goethe, Ibsen, Strindberg, Aeshylus, Euripides, Sophocles, and occasionally Aristophanes, in the case of classic writers, as well as writers of melodrama (ÎˆÌÂÈ‰‡ÏÏÈÔ), boulevard comedies and revues (for more Sideris 129-247).[i]
As for the few women dramatists who were writing for the stage in the first half of twentieth century, they also had to pay the price of living a lonely existence in a conservative society with hardly any respect for local dramatists, let alone local female dramatists (Sideris 155).[ii] Thus, unable, under these conditions, to either launch or sustain an independent theatrical activity and through it hopefully generate and circulate their own theatrical discourse and tradition, the early women dramatists remained close to male (imported or otherwise) standards, excluding in this way, themselves from the formation of a modern, indigenous woman’s theatre in Greece. As one of the earliest female dramatists, Fofi Trezou, recently wrote to me: “Why do you want to put us (men and women) into categories? Weren’t we all brought up attending the same schools, reading the same authors, imitating the same models? All male? What else could we do?” True. And somewhere else in that same letter, commenting on her own use of a male nom de plume in her drama reviews (Fotis Fanourakis), she notes: “What a paradigm of female inferiority” (1991).
To be sure, Trezou is right in her overall assumptions: submerged as they were in the multiplied voices of male authority, the women dramatists had to learn to play by the rules to survive in an impoverished theatrical market that had nothing new to offer other than entertainment for a strictly Athenian, middle and upper class audience. Of course it will be unfair to claim that Trezou and all the other female dramatists simply wrote plays to echo the male mythologies or the naturalist standards of “urban drama” [·ÛÙÈÎﬁ ‰Ú¿Ì·]. Despite the numerous difficulties some of them did try to project their concern over issues related to the position of women vis-a-vis their family, society, history, and even political party. Without necessarily disrupting the system of representation, these “pioneers” brought into their dramas problems of their own gender with particular emphasis on the confusion in roles which resulted from a society which declared that the characteristics of men were the norm.[iii]
In Lily Iakovidou, for example, [iv] we see that the position which women hold as characters in her plays is central. The writer shows that she shares a great interest in women’s life, particularly middle class, urban women. She loves to talk about their problems, relations to men, career etc. What she fails to do, however, is to turn the effects of dominance-oppression in male-female social problems into effective and gender-wise promising drama. Her close attention to traditional realism and surface details may give unity to her work but hardly any new opportunities for a different treatment of her “female” issues. Looking at her plays we see that structurally they all move from beginning to end through a tightly controlled sequence of events that is governed by a well-defined cause-and- effect-logic. In the first act questions on gender relations are usually raised, altered or replaced by others that find ultimate answers only in the plays’ closing scenes. In her well-knit stories the happiness or misery of her deftly drawn characters is always judged by how stable their relationship is with their male partner. “From where can I draw the power to fight,” Liza, one of the two heroines, asks her sister Maria in There are Ways for Everybody? And when she goes on to answer the question herself we do see that she is not a naive person; she is fully aware of the bewilderment of female identity and the authoritative voices that define this identity. “From the men we loved and wrecked our feelings,” she wonders, “or from our father? The most responsible of all” (130). Again and again in the course of the play Liza fights back to gain her freedom and avoid male dominance. She is even capable of making a devastating criticism of male authority; she is incapable, however, of undoing the limits of her imprisonment, confusion and re-presentation of the self. Iakovidou’s realistic techniques help her heroine push the action forward but hardly to a promising finale. The reality of male discourse, and its lasting effects on those who are the recipients, is affirmed rather than disputed. Approaching the end the story line cannot go anywhere else but fall back on gender superficialities and confusions that neither forego conventional forms nor alter the audience’s experience of theatre, let alone gender politics. Thus, Liza, unable to solidify her subject position in a patriarchic world and affirm her “otherness” turns to alcohol and then to the melodramatically charged solution of suicide. Maria, on the other hand, younger and more enthusiastic, dedicates her life to the attendance of “others,” children of broken families. Once again, the cliché image of the victimized, helpless woman that operates as a chronicler of the crisis rather than as a deconstructor, reveals the playwright’s ideological failing. By simply expressing the confusion in roles rather than search for possible re-redinitions, Iakovidou succeeds in drawing her characters from a male standard which paradoxically is the one she isolates at the beginning as the force behind the confusion and major conflicts in her characters’ lives.
Elli Alexiou, on the other hand, one of the first radical women writers [v] and an important member of the first feminist movement (1920-30), wrote plays absorbed by global and, occasionally, local political problems. She wrote in protest for certain socio-political rights that were only vaguely related to the “feminist agenda” of her times. Her aggressive, freedom-loving women characters are endowed with some control over their own destinies, but at no time do they free themselves from the idea that women must accept their biological destiny as being their basic function in life for the good of men and children and for their own sake. Alexiou actively challenges, through her female dramatis personae, broad issues like the corruption of the system (educational, administrative etc), the suffering caused by the Nazi occupation forces, the atrocities of the Civil War and so on. Once the socio-political goals are achieved her female characters return to their biologically fixed, “natural” world.[vi]
III: Far more aware of the “gender/sex problem” of Greek society is, no doubt, Margarita Lymberaki. In the mid-fifties, at a time when the local theatre was trying to re-define itself through the neorealistic experiments of Iakovos Kambanellis and, shortly after, of Demetris Kehaidis, and at a time when, on the socio-political plateau, there was no feminist movement of any kind and most women were back to the established roles (after a period of turbulence: Second World War, Resistance, Civil War), Margarita Lymberaki stormed the gates of local theatre with a drama distinctly different from current and past practices. Instead of reproducing the familiar codes Lymberaki adjusted her lens and technique to the idea of “woman-ness” as the most suitable subject for her work.[vii] Reading her plays one gets the impression that Lymberaki tends to write more about women, for women, than about women whose sole purpose in life is to serve or entertain men. In her plays (with the possible exception of her more realistic ones:The Other Alexander, 1957, The Holy Prince, 1963 and ZÔe, 1982) there is little dramatic action or coherence in the accepted sense. Nor is there a psychologically evolving character or a suspense of the “what will happen next.” The audience is nonetheless caught up in her plays for Lymberaki knows how to break the cause-and-effect linearity of standard aesthetics and develop, through fragmentation, new rhythmic and gestural patterns able to convey the unsayable and, at the same time, offer the spectator a new sense of things, new angles of viewing (Danaides, Erotics and Sparagmos, being the most notable). Her heroines appear on stage as life-giving (and sometimes life-taking) individuals, ready to claim anything they call their own. “All women against all men,” we hear one of her female characters say in Erotics : Purification Ritual (1974); “all the men of the island killed by the women. You will all go down. We will survive” (67). At moments like this Lymberaki is at her most radical. Her “assertive” women not only seek “difference” or “otherness” but also “plurality.” They are not afraid to disrupt any sense of given unity and dramatize instead antagonisms and contradictions; after all, that’s the way they (and their author) understand the Greek woman’s experience of history (For more see Diamond 82-94). “Yes, I am,” cries another woman character from Erotics. “I searched and found it....and I make it public today, a mourning day and a purification day of the murder of all murders of the murder of women of all women” (78-79): complex portraits whose “deconstructive activity” wreaks havoc on their fixed identities and drives them far beyond the reach of men. “I have hair and eyes that are mine, and I am nobody’s,” claims Kandavli’s wife and immediately abandons her embroidery with all the stars woven on it and claims the “earth and the sky.” She is no longer willing to “wait” for “the fall of the night when [her] husband’s hands will embrace and hurt [her]” (1980: 45). Being tired of all these she suddenly begins to “speak and write” her body and by doing so she claims it from its patriarchal textualization. She refuses to be just Kandavli’s wife. What follows the knowledge of the self is emancipation, according to the author. “And you, what are you,” Michael asks his wife in desperation; “a healer or a poisoner” (Zoe 39). He cannot tell; he cannot de-scribe her and thus, he cannot in-scribe her. For him she is always somewhere else; a person of “multiple drives” similar to what Kristeva coined as jouissance (Moi 136). Thus, confronted by this incomprehensible “otherness,” he is forced to acknowledge his defeat: “I, the King of Romans, deafeated by the females, sweating, horrible females” (Zoe 63).
In her more experimental plays (Danaides, Sparagmos, Erotics, Zoe, Kandavli’s Wife) Lymberaki provides images of women in transition from their social and cultural inheritance to the liberation of self-definition. Yet caution is needed here for in Lymberaki gender relations are not always presented as black and white. It is true that sometimes they give the impression that they succumb to the temptations (and traps) of easy binarisms. However, it is equally true that Lymberaki struggles for a delicate synthesis against a field of tensions where life and death, inside and outside, voice and writing, presence and absence, master and slave, East and West, love and hatred, health and sickness would co-exist without leaders and followers. Here, if anything happens is of much less importance than the on-stage tensions created between the characters as they act out their fantasies (Zoe, Danaides, Erotics) or tell of their love, confusion, disppointment, fear and expectation (The Other Alexander, Sparagmos, The Holy Prince, Kandavli’s Wife, The Secret Bed, 1967). “I’II make you die, you’ll make me die,” a man tells one of the women in Danaides (127). All, male and female, seem locked up in an “already-thereness,” an inter-text of all texts that makes their independent/autonomous existence very problematic.[viii] Lymberaki, at her best, touches upon the degeneration of human beings, their inability to find their wholeness in a harmonious co-existence with the “other.” And this is, I think, what she really laments.
IV: The second women’s movement in Greece (1975-present) has indeed made some real progress in the last twenty years. The collapse of the seven-year dictatorship (1967-74) is the actual force that gave birth to a flurry of agit-prop and consciousness-raising activities. To be sure it is still difficult to sort out the interrelationships of the political and cultural explosion that occurred in the 1970s. That was a period of outspoken causes and many Greeks were receptive to controversial issues. One thing is certain, however: with the emergence of the new feminism, a more emphatic voice was heard from older and younger women who set out to fight for better conditions and reforms, ranging from legalizing abortion to establishing the principle of equal pay for equal work. Without winning in all fronts, they certainly scored points that helped them improve their position at work, in the family and so on.
This indication of progress, however, need not lead us to an overtly enthusiastic assessment of the current situation.[ix] A fundamental revision of womanhood did not quite make it to the most public forum of the arts. The few women playwrights who were still producing for the theatre at that time, (Lymberaki, Zographou, Iakovidou, Alexiou, Karelli), along with some younger voices (Anagnostaki, Metropoulou), unlike their counterparts in England, France and the U.S, were not quick enough to adopt reform methods or even grope for new ways of dealing with the changing times. Although many of them were, in one way or another, involved in the feminist movement and had been active on the New Left, they hardly bothered to materialize on stage the causes and effects of the changing position of women. There was no clear understanding of the relationship between gender conflict and class conflict, as much as there was no clear idea about the relationship between new ideas and fresh dramatic narratives.[x] At best, their feminism went as far as Nora’s slamming the door into her husband’s face, giving a resounding statement about the crisis of a European society founded on middle class values that were gradually being eroded. To be sure, in their plays most of the female characters appear to be more strong-minded, quick-witted and emancipated than in the work of many of their predecessors. Personality is what really dominates now. And since the family has traditionally been the domain of the woman and, ideologically speaking, the most loaded realm, it remains the predominant theme in their plays. What they all seem to agree with is that a woman’s life, for better or worse, is still determined by the familial environment. Within its confines a woman is “taught obedience to her superiors,” Hatzopoulou-Karavia’s “Man” proudly comments in the Chill (11). She is expected to display the virtues of a “respected citizen,” to show, through her cooking, through her awareness of space and her awareness of her role as mother, lover etc, that she is an able and promising spouse (11). After all, marriage is, above all, a kind of “business transaction, “ as writers like Mina Venetsianou (in her State Prize winner Yo Yo, 1985), Ioannidou (in her All About Marriage is Beautiful [Όλα του γάμου όμορφα ]) and Anagnostaki claim. It is in the latter’sVictory (Νίκη, 1978) that we hear Nikos, the leading male character, tell his mother about his sister’s wedding: “Our Vaso sold herself out. She married the old man to feed us all” (18).
Inside the institution of marriage contemporary dramatists try to show, and simultaneously criticize, the way in which the complicated relationships of parents/children, mother/father/brothers/sisters are shaped to serve male authority. In this topos of specific hierarchic stratifications, women dramatists contend, the male figures are usually those who define the rules of the game whereas the female figures are those who come to the forefront mostly as nurturers and reproducers. As the “Boy,” in Hatzopoulou-Karavia’s one-acter Isidoros, innocently admits: “Freedom is nice, and so is emancipation. Yet what we have to remember once in a while is who wears a dress and who wears pants” (43). For women dramatists the male voice continues to be the beginning and end of things (and of discourse). It defines the course of the narrative, its action. “How did you take the decision to separate without asking my opinion,” the “Father” in the Other Alexander angrily asks his daughter (87). Without anyone able to question his subject position in the family, the Father continues to see himself as the legitimate authority, the one who can give as much as he can take away life. Statements that question this “given” are anathema. What he and all other male characters welcome are statements that do not devalidate their status quo. Aglaia, for example, gratifies her husband’s egocentrism when she tells him: “I want to submit myself to you.... I make everything after your image.... every single thing I see or touch is you” (Anagnostaki 1985: 65). And so does Anna, in Iakovidou’s most recent work The Daemon, where she tells her prospective husband: “I live with whatever is yours, with whatever you are” (196). Anna, although frustrated over her imprisonment and inability to disentangle herself from his grip, she cannot openly challenge the fundamental male attitudes about her place in society. This same idea is crystallized in Elli Papademitriou’s historical play The Mountain where we hear the “Mother” tell her daughter: “The fate of our men pulls us by the hair.”(51). Despite their efficiency as guerilla fighters these women still suffer from a total lack of self-sufficiency. They cannot rid themselves of all the convenient (and surely oppressive) roles that have kept them for decades dependent and subservient to male authority and power structures.[xi]
Whether in war or in peace, in public or in private, dramatists try to argue, the daughter is forced (or taught) to remain obedient to her parents and/or husband/brother and subordinate her career and/or studies to the ultimate goal of home and marriage. As for the mother, besides “growing older without realizing it” (The Other Alexander 72), her “assignment” inside the domestic sphere is to make all those around her be aware of their position in the family and in life. As the “Mother,” in Soula Tsovla’s melodrama An Unsung Soldier, tells her daughter, the role of a woman in life is to be a “sweet wife, a tender mother and the perfect housewife” (81). And surely this is not only the mother’s task, Hatzopoulou-Karavia argues. The school also takes “good” care of the children’s gender education—as in the case of her young heroine who, despite her “many years at school,...she was taught nothing of importance. So she managed to maintain intact, my little darling, her naivete, love for the country, her chastity and respect” (Matchmaking 28). Without drawing on her inner sources and desires the woman character, whether a mother or a daughter, Hatzopoulou-Karavia concludes, is doomed to fail as a self-sufficient individual, an “I” with a “text” of her own by which identity could be read.
Of course this subordination to the existing hierarchic rules does not mean that all female characters in the plays of contemporary women dramatists give in without fighting or unquestionably accept male standards. Discouraging as their living conditions may be, many dramatists claim, there are those, albeit few, who have the courage to fulfill their desires, which requires, among other things, to “position their body as subject in direct opposition to the patriarchal text“ (Forte 226-27). These are the characters who still dream of getting away in order to seek for a space to solidify their one-ness and thus be able to claim, along with one of Kostoula Metropoulou’s heroines that, they “can live without having to listen to his voice” (Truck 75); or along with Anna, from The Daemon: “Now there is also me. Now I can see as well” (199). Although not totally emancipated, these dramatis personae want to forego, even for a while, the need of a male companionship and a family and seek completion in a place where the “axis of power exchange will be different” (For more see Dolan 163).[xii] In other words, the desire for an/other “social text” is there. The question is, though, how and where can they find this “other” text. Men’s attitude discourages most of them.[xiii] And this, their writers claim, in combination with their being alone (in a society whose very structures have nothing to do with “lonely females” or a “sisterhood of women”), jobless, moneyless and single, forces them to either return back to the “old text,” humiliated and submissive as ever or remain within the confines of a miserable situation, unable to break free.[xiv] Sometimes of course we have characters who manage to go on and “make it,” yet, it should be pointed out that, they “make it” not as women but by “playing the man,” in other words, by inhabiting the position of the subject of discourse as a male-identified subject. In Ioannidou’s most recent play Take the Bull by the Horn [™ÎÈÛÙÂ ÙË °¿Ù·],[xv] for example, the leading heroine has to disguise herself (after the example of Brecht’s Good Woman of Setzuan), abandon her gender/sex and assume/appropriate a male subject position that would guarantee her professional survival.[xvi] In this particular play Ioannidou is openly writing in protest for certain rights for her sex. In order to present compelling dramatic material she presents her middle-aged female character as an anti-capitalist and an anti-patriarchal figure in quest for freedom of choice and self-realization. While earlier playwrights would have resolved these dilemmas by compromise, Ioannidou opts for a less romanticised resolution. Instead of having her female character absorbed into the prevailing, male-dominated cultural paradigms of female identity, she turns her into an outcast who strives to raise the consciousness of the spectator to see the biased gender ideology of Greek culture from a different perspective. From this point of view Ioannidou’s play is an attempt to provide a stage illustration of gender ideology at work and at the same time explore alternative discourses. What remains with us at the end, however, is something slightly different from the author’s original intentions: (an)other de-centered and confused individual. Ioannidou’s female character is obviously not a winner, despite the fact that she finally succeeds in overcoming the debilitating terror of being alone and jobless in a society which emphasizes woman’s dependance upon men. Nor is she a promising individual. The audience cannot figure out the possibilities of as yet unarticulated actions or judgments. Choice and action, the two ingredients of Brecht’s theory, evaporate at the end of the play, when the mother decides to reposition herself back to the old text. After exposing the cultural and economic morality of the ethics which inform the structures of Greek society, in other words, after viewing, hearing and knowing how the world and its linguistic and bodied violence inscribe the female body and mind, Ioannidou fails to provide paths to alternatives and thus undo the binary logic of existing power relations.
And this, as we noted earlier, is a problem that not only Ioannidou but most women playwrights have. While they try to foreground a new image of women and their experience they have great difficulties doing that along with new structures for their presentation. That failing, of course, does not diminish the importance of their attempt to penetrate the apparently alienated world of women and discover a valid and stage worthy source from which to draw. No one denies the fact that most of these playwrights understand well the socio-cultural context of their heroines. They do see the female body “as a privileged site of political intervention, precisely because it is the site of repressional possession” (Wolff 130). And it is to this end that they turn to and draw their sources from indigenous material like the national myths, shadow theatre, Byzantine tales, local politics, history, fairy tales, folk songs and so on; it is obvious that they deliberately look to their culture for response.[xvii] What makes their effort all the more difficult though is, besides their anaemic economic situation, the absence of a well-organized feminist activity, theory and tradition that could back them up and promote/circulate their discourse; as a result they are forced to stand within patriarchal culture and inevitably within the limits of its representability, which means that they can dramatize women’s material oppression but not their oppresion in representation.
Roula Georgakopoulou, for example, in her well-received Its Cool Basements [T· ¢ÚÔÛÂÚ¿ ÙÔ˘ YﬁÁÂÈ·, 1992], makes an interesting statement about a pregnant woman’s communication with the fetus. Without romanticizing or sentimentalizing her material, Georgakopoulou manages to render a sensitive stage image where problems of motherhood, mother/child relationship and survival in an ugly world come to center stage. What she does not do, however, is move on from there and provide paths to new concepts of a “less ugly” world where mother and child could live peacefully and productively.
In another play, by poet Maria Laina, Reality is Here [Η πραγματικότητα είναι εδώ, 1990), we watch a woman and two men (A and B) trying to find ways to communicate or, at least, explain why cannot do so. The story is seen and told through the female mind. Laina, despite the low profile she tries to keep, does not hide her feminist sympathies. Her leading female character appears to be “stronger” than her male companions who may behave like tyrants while they are young and active, yet when they grow older they turn into “weak, pitiful little men” (25). Yet this is all the play has to say about “feminist” issues. Laina deliberately refrains from going for social or political rights. Her concern is to come to terms with the emotional truths of daily existence, to acknowledge the emotive power and centrality of human feelings and relationships and to address the question of survival, independence of mind and action within that context.
In Lula Anagnostaki, as well, it is not gender as such that counts but a general disenchantment over human relationships and conservative social institutions. Anagnostaki’s career is divided roughly into two periods. Her early stage world, albeit expository and dynamic,[xviii] is, aesthetically speaking, plagued by the shortcomings of Greek neorealism, introduced by Kambanellis and Kehaidis in the Fifties, and, ideologically speaking, by the Civil War obsession. It is a discourse that by failing to disengage itself from the national hysterias and obsessions fails (although it tries) to effectively dramatize the power of gender repression and exploitation—and more so, provide openings for new readings of history and theatre representation. It is only in her later work like The Casette (Η κασέτα), The Sound of the Gun (Ο ήχος του όπλου) and Diamonds and Blues [Διαμάντια και μπλουζ] that Anagnostaki manages to leave behind the Civil War experience and penetrate with acuteness the psychology of contemporary Greeks, male and female. In The Sound of the Gun (1987), which was Karolos Koun’s last production at the age of 72, Anagnostaki weaves with dexterity the texture of her play around the question: What happened to the “revolutionaries” of the Sixties? What happened to their ideals of absolute freedom? To answer the question, the playwright looks into the norms and customs of a middle class family whose members represent different ideas. Through them Anagnostaki touches upon and satarizes the conventional norms of marriage and accidental motherhood and fatherhood. She claims that these norms have value only when you go beyond them, by transgressing the traps of resignment and passivity. Thus, the “Mother” of the play finds her children in the end through their rejection. Her eighteen-year old son finds his mother through her death (with a gun that carries a silencer, so the sound the titles implies is really an interior one rather than exterior). The family friend finds himself in the life of others and in their imaginings and actions. The girl of the family, who had lived her own revolution some twenty years ago, now survives by mythologizing the lie, by mingling, the real and the fantastic, like Tennessee Williams’ Blanche Du Bois. She thinks of the fantastic as an inseparable element of the real, as part of the very nature of things. In this way she goes beyond the standard binarisms of Western culture and enjoys a different kind of freedom, political and sexual.
This entrapment of the individual characterizes Anagnostaki’s most recent play, Diamonds and Blues (Διαμάντια και μπλουζ˙), first produced in 1990 with the late Jennie Karezi and her husband Kostas Kazakos in the leading roles. Once again Anagnostaki tries to explore the motives and movements of a middle-aged lady trapped in her own self and in her own unfulfilled desires. Her heroine “wants out” but she doesn’t know how. Although she is disgusted by reality, she doesn’t have the tools to be herself, speak her voice. Only towards the end of the play does she find a way out: through her commitment to art. Anagnostaki, without externalizing the conflict, shows the dignity of taking responsibility for oneself. Furthermore, the effect of representing a mother as a woman who creates should not be underestimated, considering the fact that mothers have more often than not been portrayed as passive and uncreative creatures. In this respect, this play does have revisionary power. It manages to invite our attention by reshuffling an older order of things.
Constantina Vergou’s Antigone’s Wedding, is another contemporary play that reflects the persistence of the personal struggles in which Greek women were involved in the 1970s. The writer clearly places her sympathies on her suffering women; she criticizes the role of the past in shaping women’s character and social status. She questions the idea that women’s problems could be solved through marriage and the establishment of a home. For her, Antigone is a victim who, in an act of absolute self-denial, goes on and marries someone she does not love to save her sister Sophia (pretty much like Antigone’s sacrifice in ancient Greece).Vergou recognizes the repression of Greek women in the family, school and religion. And to counterbalance these structures she introduces Sophia who refuses to obey the hierarchic rules of society and seeks her individuation and freedom through her university studies. Sophia’s success is certainly disapproved by the male members of her family circle because it is interpreted as an act of aggression and antagonism—elements that are not “feminine”. In their mind Sophia poses a threatening alternative to the familial text of female victimization. By simply desiring she immediately becomes “an/other” person and as such she can no longer stay with her family. Like many of her contemporaries Vergou tries to forego traditional gender roles but, like them, fails to transgress the norms of a culture that violates the female subject. This failure makes her ideological statements look a little bit vague and obsolete.
V: To Sum up: It is certainly difficult to talk of a pattern or a canon emerging from the playwriting of these women dramatists. The fact of the matter is that with the exception of Anagnostaki (and to a much lesser degree Lymberaki), no other woman has been a vital, contributive, let alone definitive force in the Greek theatre. As noted earlier, most of them have thus far been ignored by critics and universities alike and those, like Vergou, Ioannidou and Zarokosta, who have come to the forefront (mostly through the winning of the national prizes for drama and the subsequent production of their plays by the small stages of the National Theatres) have not really shown anything new nor have they convinced the public that they have anything very different to say. Zooming their work one can easily detect that their concern falls into several categories, more or less familiar. Some of them (I think the majority) lightly criticize the exploitation of women in patriarchy (Ioannidou, Vergou, Tomazani), some dramatize experiences considered to be “feminine” (Kranidioti, Zarokosta, Sfakianaki, Tsovla, Metropoulou) and some others ocassionally call for the revisioning of the cultural myths of (Greek) society concerning women (Trezou, Lymberaki). To be sure, there are many women who write as though gender were not an issue (Zoe Karelli is a good example). There are also women whose work can be understood as belonging to one of the categories noted above who would not call themselves “feminist,” a term that has fallen into disreptute lately (Anagnostaki). Regardless of categories and ideological intentions it suffices to say that the women characters of these authors are presented as being aware of their uneasy position in Greek society but at the same time most of them do not seem to want to declare any kind of lasting independence from roles which seem to suppress their uniqueness and social position. They usually operate (or are forced to operate) within conventional family situations, with their domestic conflicts, occasional rebelions and frequent happy ends. No matter where they go and what they do marriage and motherhood are still of primary importance. Professional career comes usually second. Undoubtedly contemporary women dramatists, with the exception of Lymberaki, in places Metropoulou, Vergou and the most recent Anagnostaki, see and comprehend the inherent problems which grow from this “ambivalent” position, yet they are too disciplined by traditional drama rules of plot, character and theme to broaden the base for feminist dramatic study. It is precisely this inability to find a new outlet to speak their own experience as subjects that has kept them, I think, mostly on the margins of the contemporary and, one has to admit, relatively flexible and receptive, theatre scene—and not so much their being “women.”[xix] In this respect women dramatists lay behind women novelists and poets who, having found ways to redefine feminine roles to match the redefinitions they had actually experienced as a result of numerous social changes, have managed to solidify their territory (aesthetic and ideological) that now allows them to slowly develop a discourse which can help them address the specific situation and emotional realities of women. In the Greek theatre there is nothing equivalent to this or similar to, say, the example of the Women’s Theatre Council that was formed by six women dramatists in New York in 1972 and was dedicated to the discovery, promotion and production of new plays by women. Nor are there any local companies dedicated to women issues or ready to carve the way for something different, in the sense of constructing their own stage for semiotic production and subsequently their own community of spectators with more understanding and more support of their work.[xx] This absence, in combination with the lack of a well-organized feminist movement in the country as well as with all the other problems that plague the local theatre (lack of money, dropping spectatorship, competitiveness, commercialization, weak support from academia) make the day when women’s theatre will be able to mutually cross-fertilize with male drama, a far-away dream. After slamming the door (in Nora’s example) the next step is, “where to go.” And that I cannot see happening.
Anagnostaki, Lula. The Casette [Η κασέτα·]. Unpublished manuscript.
. Victory (1978) [Nίκη]. Theatrika Tedradia 3 (1980): 13-26.
Avdela, Efi and Aggelica Psara. Eds. Feminism in Greece In-Between the Wars [O ºÂÌÈÓÈÛÌﬁ˜ ÛÙËÓ EÏÏ¿‰· ÙÔ˘ MÂÛÔÔÏ€ÌÔ˘]. Athens: Gnosi, 1985.
Diamond, Elin. “Brechtian Theory/Feminist Theory: Toward a Gestic Feminist Criticism.” The Drama Review (1988): 82-94.
Dolan, Jill. “The Dynamics of Desire: Sexuality and Gender in Pornography and Performance.” Theatre Journal 39 (1987): 156-174.
Forte, Jeanie. “Women’s Performance Art: Feminism and Post Modernism.” Theatre Journal 40 (1988): 217-235.
Grammatas, Thodoros. Neohellenic Theatre and Society [Νεοελληνικό θέατρο και κοινωνία›·]. Athens: Vasilopoulos, 1990.
Hatzopoulou-Karavia, Lia. Chill, Matchmaking, Isidoros [¶·ÁˆÓÈ¿, ¶ÚÔÍÂÓÈﬁ, IÛ›‰ÔÚÔ˜]. Athens, 1974.
Iakovidou, Lily. There Are Ways for Everybody (1963) [Y¿Ú¯Ô˘Ó ¢ÚﬁÌÔÈ ÁÈ· ŸÏÔ˘˜]. Athens: Diogenes, 1978.
. The Daemon (1970) [O ¢·›ÌÔÓ·˜]. Athens: Diogenes, 1978.
Igglesi, Chrysi. Faces of Women, Masks of Consciousness [¶ÚﬁÛˆ· °˘Ó·ÈÎÒÓ, M¿ÛÎÂ˜ ™˘ÓÂ›‰ËÛË˜] . Athens: Hermes, 1990.
Laina, Maria. Reality Is Here Η πραγματικότητα είναι εδώ]. Athens: Stigme, 1990.
Lymberaki, Margarita. Danaides (1954) [Δαναϊδες˜]. Athens: Hermes, 1980.
. Erotics: Purification Ritual (1974) [EÚˆÙÈÎ¿: TÂÏÂÙ‹ K·ı·ÚÌÔ‡]. Athens: Hermes, 1983.
. Kandavli’s Wife (1954) [Η γυναίκα του Κανδαύλη]. Athens: Hermes, 1980.
. The Other Alexander (1957) [O άλλος Αλέξανδρος˜]. Athens: Kedros, 1986.
. Zoe [Zωή]. Athens: Hestia, 1982.
Metropoulou, Kostoula. The Truck [ H NÙ·Ï›Î·]. Athens: Govostis, n.d.
Moi, Tomil. Ed. The Kristeva Reader. New York: Columbia University Press, 1986.
Papademitriou, Elli. The Mountain (1974) [TÔ BÔ˘Óﬁ]. Athens: Kedros, 1977.
Sideris, Yiannis. The History of New Greek Theatre: 1794-1944. Vol. I [IÛÙÔÚ›· ÙÔ˘ N€Ô˘ EÏÏËÓÈÎÔ‡ £Â¿ÙÚÔ˘]. Athens: Icarus, n.d.
Trezou, Fofi. Letter to Savas Patsalidis. June 27, 1991.
Tsovla, Soula. An Unsung Soldier [ŒÓ·˜ AÊ·Ó‹˜ ™ÙÚ·ÙÈÒÙË˜]. Athens: Dodoni, 1984.
Wolff, Jane. Feminine Sentences: Essays on Women and Culture. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990.
It is revealing to mention here that the first time an actresses’s name was printed on the program of a production was as late as 1892 with the coming of the first two stars of Greek theatre: Katerina Veroni and Evaggelia Paraskevopoulou (Sideris 161).
[ii] It should be noted here that the first play ever written by a woman is Nikeratos [Nικήρατος] in 1826 (Navplio) by Evanthia Kaire. This same play was plagiarized in 1870 by another woman, Elpida Kyriakou, who published it as her own with a new title, The Siege of Mesologgi [Η πολιορκία του Μεσολογγίου˘].
[iii] It should be clarified here that it was not only women who turned themselves against the homogenizing tendencies of Greek society. In the theatre domain, in particular, there were many male dramatists who, dissatisfied over the unfair patriarchic practices of Greek society, took seriously the necessity for women to (re)define their own experience and to escape the constrictions of social life as defined by law and custom. These writers went as far as to re-investigate and re-evaluate the validity of the received history, its ideological “givens” and moral standards. They tried to explore problems attendant with gender-determined exclusions from historical discourse. These playwrights tried to see women outside entrapping cliches like the pure mother, the loyal wife, the good housewife, the good cook, the threatening emasculator, the educated snob, and so on. Without staking out a completely different terrain from where to mount their critique they did manage to bring forward some new ideas about women. See early plays like Myriella by D. Tagopoulos,Nitsa by Z. Fytile andThe Emancipated (Η χειραφετημένη) by Chr. Papazapheropoulos. In the last thirty years more and more male playwrights have touched upon issues considered to be feminine: women’s struggle against traditional concepts of marriage, women’s support of free love, equal treatment, right for abortion and so on. See Colored Women and Antigone’s Matchmaking [Το προξενιό της Αντιγόνης˜] by V. Ziogas, Clytemnestra? by A. Staigos, The Story of Lady Othello [Η ιστορία της Λαίδης Οθέλλο] by E. Laios, Wedding [Γάμος] by M. Pontikas, Our Family by V. Mitsakis, among others.
[iv] Iakovidou, with a total of ten plays, is one of the most prolific playwrights. She is the first woman playwright to win State prizes for drama with her plays, Easy Victims [Εύκολα θύματα·, 1937], Girls [Κορίτσια, 1938], There Are Ways for Everybody  and The Daemon .
[v] Elli Alexiou has earned a sizeable reputation as a novelist and a leftist ideologue rather than a dramatist. In fact, very rarely are her plays seen on stage.
[vi] See her plays A Day in Highschool —where she examines the authority of the teachers, their outdated syllabus and teaching methods and their relationship with their students— and That’s How the Woods Were Burned —that deals with those who collaborated with the German occupation troops. I must point out here that themes that touch upon the issue of authority, resistance against the Nazis, fascism, the Civil War, have always been very popular among modern Greek playwrights, male and female. See, for example, Easter Games [Πασχαλινά παιχνίδια] by V. Ziogas, Common Logic [Κοινή λογική)] by Y. Maniotis, Lily Zographou, What Happened to Him that Came to Set Fire [ 1972], Anagnostaki’s early plays, among many others.
[vii] I must note here that this emphasis on overtly feminist and unconventional issues carried its own risk as well. Soon after her debut as a writer Lymberaki became the “black sheep” of Greek theatre. Not many people were ready to accept her plays, let alone see them enter the “new” canon that was under way at the time. It was this negative reception of her work that forced her to leave the country for France, where she managed to produce her first plays and establish herself as an important playwright. Although she returned to Greece in the Sixties, she was never meant to play an important role in the local state of affairs. At the time of her homecoming Lula Anagnostaki was already in the limelight, monopolizing the limited interest of theatre critics in women writers. Lymberaki was once again an “outsider.” It is my impression that had Lymberaki stayed and produced in Greece, the local women’s theatre would have been much different and far more daring. Lymberaki’s surrealistic, oneiric oeuvre had all the qualities of the new and the promising. It was investigative, challenging, innovative, enlightening and above all, politically positive: things the local theatre needed to counterbalance the pervasive influence of Kambanelli’s well-knit and linear plots.
[viii] This idea is made very clear in the program of the play’s French production. There the actors note: “We are six. Three women victims, victims like all women of phallocratic society. Three men, victims like all men of the same society that men created”. From “Prologue” to Danaides, 90.
[ix] A recent survey has shown that the participation of women in all fields of life is still lagging behind that of men. For example, in various cultural activities women represent only 7%; in scientific fields women are less than 3% and only in the arts do they manage to get a mere 25% of the share. Moreover, in the House of Parliament at no time in the country’s history were there more than 13 women MPs among the House’s 300 seats. Finally, in a recent edition of a Greek “Who’s Who,” among the 4.856 names cited as important in the period between 1950-1990 there are only 457 women, in other words, less than 10%. Ta Nea, March 2 1992: 26-27.
[x] This confusion is most evident in writers of agit prop and consciousness-raising plays like Georgia Deliyianni-Anastasiade in A Story at Henton 1978, Dona Zuana 1974 (that deal with the slave trade) and Electra , 1978 (a re-telling of the Greek myth that dramatizes the resistance of Greek women against the Nazi troops).
[xi] This same idea of the male voice and presence is very evident in most of Kostoula Metropoulou’s plays (The Rehearsal, The Meeting, The Last Performance, The Risk, The Mirror, The Truck, among others) as well as in Lula Anagnostaki’s The City, Antonio, Victory, Parade, and in Konstantina Vergou’s Antigone’s Wedding.
[xii] This same issue surfaces in Anagnostaki’s The Casette where Kate, a dynamic and modern young woman, tells her husband in a threatening voice: “You won’t play the man to me again” (102).
[xiii] Of course this is not the case for all male characters. There are male characters who join forces with female characters instead of antagonizing them. For example, when Evdocia, in Eleni Kistopoulou’s Thephilos, tells the Emperor of Byzantium (her husband), “I came back to live better under your shadow,” the Emperor answers back: “You belong to yourself, you yourself are the center of your world.” Thessaloniki, 1973, 19.
[xiv] It is like Anagnostaki’s The Casette again where we have a constant recycling/rewinding of a vicious reality where everything is pre-recorded and thus “frozen.” No one can escape the workings of this discourse.
[xv] The play won the State Prize for theatre in 1987. It was first produced by the State Theatre of North Greece in 1990.
[xvi] The abandonment of gender is also evident in Papademetriou’s The Mountain where Vavo, one of the two women characters who are fighting the invading Nazi troops, says: “Let them not call us women anymore so that our enemies are scared of us” (5). Moreover, in Lymberaki’s The Other Alexander, those women who are accepted by all sides are those who speak the language of men (like Dorothea, for example), in other words, those who identify themselves with the male models of power and look to their fathers/husbands/lovers as examples of power.
[xvii] See among others plays by Zoe Karelli (Suppliants, 1962, Orestes, 1971, Simonis, 1965), Eleni Kitsopoulou, Theophilos (inspired by Byzantium), Margarita Lymberaki (Zoe, Kandavli’s Wife, The Holy Prince, inspired by Byzantium and Danaides and Sparagmos inspired by ancient Greek myths and rituals) and Trezou in her plays Epigonoi , and Impersonal Authority [AΑπρόσωπη εξουσία, 1971] where she re-uses ancient Greek history to talk about forms of domination. In all these plays it is clear that the playwrights want to discover limitations and strengths that can change lives. However, the conclusion of most of their plays (with the exception of Lymberaki) offers no more substantial resolution, than more sacrifice, particularly on the part of their women, to adjust to the rigid demands of a strictly hierarchized society.
[xviii] This is particularly evident in most of her early plays:Victory [Νίκη],1978, Parade [Παρέλαση], 1969, City [Πόλη], 1965, Overnight Stay [Διανυκτέρευση, 1965], The Companionship , Antonio or the Message 1972] , being the most notable. These plays carry the heavy atmosphere and the ideological traces of the Civil War reality in the late forties and the unpredictability and corruption of Greek politics and policies in the years that followed.
[xix] After all, as I noted in the text, most of the women writing for the Greek theatre today (Anagnostaki, Metropoulou, Lymberaki, Zarokosta, Ioannidou, among others), have seen one or more of their plays produced by the two National and the twelve Regional Theatres (all sponsored by the State). In other words, they were not ignored on the bases of their gender.
[xx] This same defeatist psychology seems to prevail among women directors as well. What they claim is that as long as the socio-cultural reality is run my men, women in the theatre stand less chances to radically change things. See To Vema, “Directing is a Man’s Job: Interview with contemporary women directors,” 13 March, 1990. Let me point out here that, in terms of statistics, in the last thirty years some 40 women directors have worked for the Greek theatre but it is a well known fact that only a couple really made a difference—and that was mainly due to the controversy that surrounded their work (Marietta Rialde and Roula Pateraki are the outstanding examples). It is also worth noting that the first time a woman director was allowed to direct an ancient play for the National Theatre’s participation in Epidaurus Summer Festival was in 1984 (Aristophanes’ Thesmophosiazousae, dir. Koula Antoniadou). In other words, what women directors argue is that very rarely have women directors been trusted with one of the large stages of the National Theatres to show what they can do (they are usually given the smaller stages).
First published in the Journal of Modern Greek Studies (Spring 1996): 85-102.