From Historical Realism to Ahistorical Postmodernism: The Desemiotization of Contemporary Greek Theatre

Modern Greek theatre, unlike, say, German and American theatre, is a theatre basically of dominant trends rather than individuals. Of course, that is not to say that local theatre practice lacks variety of experiments; Ôn the contrary, it has taken many forms, including history play, documentary theatre, the theatre of the absurd, the "Brechtian" theatre, the socialist realist theatre, the proletarian problem play, the revue theatre etc., all existing nicely side by side.
Even so, a common thread remains a persistent realism. Following the trajectory and the various phases of post Second World War Greek drama, one notices that from Iakovos Kambanellis, the acknowledged "father" of modern Greek theatre, to Yiorgos Dialegmenos and Yiorgos Skourtis there is a realistic pattern of expectations that underpins their conceptions of dramatic character and form. Through this pattern, modern Greek playwrights have tried to express the contemporary Greek theatre's concern to find a stage metaphor that would be symbolic of the average modern Greek wo/man. To that end Greek playwrights have turned to the Greek past (remote and recent) and the Greek present. The reason why a specifically critical realistic dramatic literature became necessary during the postwar period becomes self-evident as soon as one contemplates the fairly disastrous political and social history of twentieth-century Greece. I will dispense with reviewing that history here; still a few comments on postwar Greece are perhaps called for.
Internal strife and external interference have been the historical motors of modern Greek history. Since independence from Ottoman rule (1827), divergent prospects for the future kindled bitter battles in an ongoing struggle. In this process, irreconcilable views converged towards two distinct poles. One foresaw a Greek progress born of the internalization of foreign models: Europe and later on the United States. The other, more willing to define progress within the specificity of its own process, defended the dignity of native culture, of its own uncharted destiny. As a consequence of this bipolarity, exile and ostracism have been tightly woven into the fabric of Greek history. Perhaps the most telling example of this traumatic trajectory was the devastating Civil War between the Left and the Right that brought the country to the brink of total collapse late in the 1940s.
Hardly had the big War come to an end and the Resistance freedom fighters, that so heroically fought against the Führer's occupation of Greece, started fighting among themselves with as much ferocity as they fought the Germans. Foreign intervention first of the British and then of the Americans, on the side of rightist troops brought the Civil War to an end in the late 1940s, but hardly any peace. The country was hopelessly divided—free but divided between victors (the Right) and losers (the Left). The irony was that while in the rest of Europe the years following the War brought with them great expectations for many intellectuals, exiles, returning soldiers and liberated prisoners, Greeks could clearly see that the cracked pieces didn' t nicely fit; they required a really more profound rearrangement to have any positive effect on the character of the nation. Within this uneasy social and ideological context nation and dramatic literature were moving hand in hand.
Greek theatre has always been very sensitive to sociopolitical problems, local customs and local myths; yet at no time in the past has this been so pronounced and constant as in the years following the Civil War. In a country suffering from internal strife and authoritarian rule, it was only natural to experience an equally anti-conservative, vitriolic, sarcastic and critical theatre art.[i] During the first period of the development of modern Greek drama (the years from approximately 1950 to 1967) a conscious search for a national dramaturgy led to a restructuring and redefinition of the traditional theatrical paradigm—a paradigm based on a much-outmoded turn-of-the-century European tradition and invested with a strong hellenocentric ideology. Now a crucial emphasis was placed, among other things, on methods and modes of production. Theatre people began to face the need for a structural homology between their theatrical production and their social practice.[ii] Dozens of disappointed and angry young writers turned to the stage to voice their frustration, expose the corruption of the authorities and dramatize the daily struggle of the average citizen. Those scholars who speak of a theatrical renaissance have reasons to do so. Never before had Greece experienced such a creative drive. Well over 500 plays were written in the period between 1950-1967. Besides the dominant neorealist plays, farces, revues, philosophical plays, comedies, absurd plays and political plays provided the Greek theatre-goer with a considerable range of choices. Following the example of Karolos Koun's leading company "Theatro Technis", groups desiring to try something new proliferated in various settings and communities. With their emphasis on contemporary plays (mainly Greek) and with their radical re-readings of ancient Greek drama they brought an air of renewal to the local theatre.
Most of the playwrights who appeared in that transitional first period shared certain political inclinations and an intense concern with the Greek language and Greek identity. In politics, they were definitely left of center, in an instinctive rather than theoretical way, and occasionally interested in existentialist and psychological ideas, imported to Greece mainly from France and America. The restlessness of this transitional moment emerges most intensely from Iakovos Kambanellis' s E Ayli ton Thavmaton [The Backyard of Wonders, 1957], the first box office hit of "Theatro Technis". If to experiment is to make a foray into the unknown, then Kambanellis with this play opened up the possibilities of Greek theatre as an art and implied something different. Drawing on the techniques of both European modernism and Greek tradition, Kambanellis created an interesting dramaturgy that articulated his own individual vision and aesthetic style. Through the utilization of comedy, drama, vignettes of typical behavior, familiar language and figures he produced a sort of "epic drama" that strove to teach people to discover the world they lived in while criticizing improper, anti-human behavior. E Avli is the first modern Greek play of psychological realism that effectively reproduces the struggle of the (dis)placed "little wo/man". The backyard, where the action unfolds, stands as the natural extension of the life of poor people, as well as a reminder of a lifestyle in a state of siege; it is the "other" of the highrise that still resists the homogenizing tendencies of the new urban plan. The world beyond this private domain is portrayed as a dark force, an opponent ready to exploit and destroy. The "little man", uprooted as he is, with his selfhood endangered by social institutions, land speculators, ruthless capitalists and power games, and his traditional liaison with reality forever shattered, willy-nilly gives himself away to myth, personal or collective, biographical or sociopolitical. Myth becomes a safety valve, a kind of "heterotopia" that soothes the pain of his displacement and shelters his dreams; it provides a sense of roots and selfhood. With this play, as Greek critics claim, Kambanellis signalizes the arrival of native drama and stresses the importance of local themes (Puchner 1990: 42). The question of "Greekness" goes center-stage (Lignadis 1990: 37). In his search for a new national identity, Kambanellis turns to and explores the idea of "Greekness" [ellenikoteta] as the only ideological and political constant in the formation of a solid and distinct Greek identity. His difference with similar practices of the past, as Grammatas points out, is that this time "Greekness" is first deconstructed and then re-adjusted to the new sociopolitical reality; while in the past the "nation  was the organizing paradigm for the formation of a solid national identity, now the point of reference is the "people"; "Greekness",  in other words, stands here and in the plays that follow as the authentic expression of the oppressed dynamics of the people. In the mind o Kambanellis and his contemporaries searching for "Greekness" is equivalent to a search for the real; it is an activation of the latent dynamics of the masses, a reawakening of their spirit (Grammatas 1992: 229-230).
Loula Anagnostaki, Stratis Karras, Demetris Kehaïdis, Pavlos Matesis, Kostas Mourselas, Marios Pontikas and Yiorgos Skourtis are Kambanellis's "grandsons" and "granddaughters" who insist on doing their own thing, without, at the same time, committing themselves to a particular school. Certainly they do not turn down the legacy of new realism. They simply enrich it, while they search for the best stage metaphor of the average Greek and his/her "Greekness" (Grammatas 1992: 225). Borrowing from B. Brecht, E. Ionesco, T. Williams, F. G. Lorca, A. Miller, S. Beckett, H. Pinter and J. Osborne, among others, they complicate the conventions of local theatre as well as the possibilities of an easy categorization (Grammatas 1992: 117-125). Most of them show a gradual development in their drama that shifts from one literary tradition to another (Puchner 1990: 41).[iii]
Since most of these writers are children of the Civil War their plays are aflame with their burning indignation over social and political injustice and corruption. Some of them draw on the traditional thematic cycles of Greek drama, reactivating or appropriating its ingredients. In their plays mythology and ancient Greek history (Danaïdes by Lymberaki, O Babas o Polemos [The Father, the War] and Odyssea Gyrna Piso [Ulysses Come Back] by Kambanellis), the biblical and christian world as well as Byzantine history (Theophano by Aggelos Terzakis, Zoe by Lymberaki), the war of 1821 against the Ottoman Turks (Exodos tou Mesologgiou [The Exodus of Mesologgi] by Gerasimos Stavrou) and the catastrophe of Asia Minor (Panygiri [Fair] by Kehaïdis), become the organizing points of reference that inform the present and enlighten the past. In addition to the plays that utilize the potential of Greek history, we have numerous plays that concentrate on existential problems in urban centers (the early plays of Anagnostaki, the early Matesis and most of Ziogas' plays), on more contemporary historical events, like the Nazi occupation and the Civil War (To Xypnema [The Awakening] by Kotzia, To Krateterio [The Prison Cell] of Vaggeli Goufa, E Phili  [The Friends] of Moursela) and on Greeceãs current sociopolitical and economic situation (Se Philo ste Mouri  [I Kiss you on the Face] of Yiorgos Dialegmenos, E Gyneka tou Lot [Lot's Wife], Esoterike Edisis [Local News] of Pontikas, among many others). Unlike the plays that draw on historical themes, this latter group favours small, pared-down casts. Instead of linking their action to the sustaining frames that underpin the ideology and the nationalism of earlier theatre, these more contemporary plays present average Greek men and women severed from larger structures that invest significance in events. The characters speak at cross-purposes, so that their dialogue sometimes has more in common with, say, the Beckett of Waiting for Godot or the Ionesco of The Bald Soprano than the Brecht of Galileo. Individual blickering does not necessarily yield to collective resolution. No character defines his/her grievances in political terms and point the way to organized, disciplined political action that would change their living conditions. In this sense they have nothing heroic about them. They flicker with intermittent insight within a context of darker communication. Marios Pontikas, for example, in his play Theates [Spectators] and Yiorgos Skourtis in Apergospastis [The Scab], dramatize the condition of their outcasts within class and social frames, without necessarily calling for action. They simply portray the confusion and contradictions that go into the formation of a national identity and the difficulty of maintaining one's sense of self within the context of demoralizing forces. At the point when one has to react, Pontikas claims in his Theates, he decides to withdraw. We simply watch and listen, as if we are in a theatre, without feeling the need to intervene. This is the ultimate price of our total isolation. What we really want is to see and not to be seen. Pontikas reminds us with this play that we are mainly passive spectators, runaways, fleeting witnesses who refuse to testify. Like Alfred Jarry and Jean Genet, Pontikas slowly peels Greek reality off its official mythologies, presenting instead the realities of poverty, humiliation, disorientation, exploitation, indifference, etc.
The interest of modern Greek dramatists in the dark area of human behavior that political action cannot breach or heal help them to enrich the local realist canon with elements from other literary movements. Their stage naturalism frequently mingles with elements from the theatre of the absurd, creating a new dramatic idiom that enables the writers to put on stage various forms of social oppression and existential isolation. The outsider (the "other") of these plays is not very different from the new realism of Kambanellis: he lives, survives and forms his identity within the limits and possibilities of his "other" subculture. This oppositional structure is the axis around which Anagnostakis' dramas revolve. Her heroes/heroines are the symbols of the human condition. They hardly act; they spend most of their stage time confessing things, talking about their memories and disillusionments, very much like the Tyrones in Eugene O' Neill' s Long Day's Journey Into Night. Antonis Doriades, in his play Paraxeno Apogevma [A Strange Afternoon], claims that our hell springs from our daily need of the other, the memory of the other, the expectation of the other. Similar concerns characterize the plays of Vasilis Ziogas where the organizing principle is the struggle of man with his fate. The only way to come out a winner, Ziogas concludes, is to feel the need to react.
Most of these writers began their career in the 1960s, a period of protracted social tumult that culminated with the coup d' êtat in 1967, and they continue producing plays for the Greek stage to this day. Although it is prudent to be skeptical of extreme contemporary claims that would obsolescent the values, categories, and politics of these writers, it must be admitted that significant changes have been taking place in Greece in the last ten years or so and that many of the practices and assumptions of modern Greek theatre can no longer effectively describe contemporary Greek culture and society. With this I am not claiming that there is any extreme break and rupture with the recent past; there are enduring continuities with the past and many ideas and phenomena which are claimed to be very contemporary have their origins and analogues precisely in the modern era. Nonetheless, I would suggest that Greece lives between a now aging modern era and a new "post" modern era that remains to be adequately conceptualized, charted and mapped. After all, as Kellner (1995: 49) makes the point, "historical epochs do not rise and fall in neat patterns or at precise chronological moments. The change between one era and another is always protracted, contradictory and usually painful. The sense of 'betweenness,' or transition, requires that one grasp the continuities with the past as well as the novelties of the present and future."
Since about 1985 there has been a series of spectacular changes all around the world that have affected Greek reality as well. Greek society, like most western societies, has reached turning a point where the "motor of history" (class struggle/consciousness) has become more difficult to articulate. This is not to say that Greece (or any other country) has reached the end of ideology; nor is it to say that class struggle or class do not exist. Rather, it simply suggests, as Docherty makes the point, that those concepts are in crisis (Docherty 1990: 206; also, Mouffe 1988: 31-45). While in the past there was a recognizable center of power (usually the State or the military) and recognizable binarisms, now one of the most serious consequences of the latest developments is the new facility of the established culture (commercial or otherwise) to recuperate or neutralize the oppositional power of any ideology, any individual behavior or art form. Within this developing context, the margins of Greek society that hosted the most memorable and likable figures of modern Greek theatre (the "Other") have either disappeared or no longer draw the unquestioned sympathy of the viewer. The inside and the outside are becoming more and more indistinguishable and fluid. Kambanellis's slums and backyards, for example, are now chic and very expensive suburbs. Everything "Other" is rapidly becoming the "Same". This means that the mere opposition advanced by local Marxism is not enough for a radical criticism, let alone for a convincing dramatizaton of contemporary Greek reality and history. What is required is a change of course, that would open the subject to the availability of his or her own historicity and mutability (Docherty 1990: 213). The various forms of earlier realism (good as they were) are now ineffective to organize the world of the simulacrum in which there are only appearances and disappearances. It is my impression that what many modern Greek playwrights still fail to see is that no claims can be made upon any fundamental ontological reality. The hypernarratives of "their" Left have become misty, to say the least, the site of an equally totalizing knowledge rather than the site of eventual action. As Yiorgos Veltsos boldly claims in his first play, Camera Degli Sposi (1994), "we have reached the end of the social," where there is no "absolute text." Greece is rapidly desemiotizing itself, a shift of perspective that is as promising as it is perplexing.
That is not to say, of course, that contemporary theatre in Greece lacks voices to mirror the dramatic changes that take place all around us. Clearly the majority of Greek theatre is now living in a borderland between the old and the new, and this explains its tension and insecurity. At the same time, however, in the last few years more and more young writers, directors, choreographers, composers, and scenographers try to disentangle themselves from the routines of local theatre practice and ideology and look for new openings, closer to the demands and aesthetics of our postmodern times. Thus, while much of modern Greek theatre prided itself on its capacity to negate the established view of things (to epater la bourgeoisie), these newcomers abandon the humanist nostalgia of their predecessors for a whole picture or a national narrative/identity which would seek to explain the real truth of our times. They abandon the oppositional logic of modernity, leave the family dramas behind, de-center their representational tactics and hail heterogeneity, alterity, and intertextuality. In this sense, their "Greece" is different from the "Greece" dramatized by, say, Kambanellis and Anagnostaki; and so is their understanding of character, "Greekness", local history and mythology. Their heroes are no longer the working class losers (or opponents) of Kehaïdis and Pontikas. In a rationalized, bureaucratized and consumerized mass society and media culture, rich and poor experience the same feeling of entrapment and deterritorialization. Within this situation, their stage presence problematizes rather than reinforces the very notion of a self-constituting (Greek or any other) identity. The postmodern self does not possess the depth, substantiality and coherency that was the ideal and sometimes the achievement of the modern self (Baudrillard 1983; Jameson 1983 and 1991). Without ignoring the local tradition, these contemporary playwrights reduce the historical present/past to a mere collage of random forces, where fragmentation, dispersion, discontinuity and intertextuality reinforce a conscious play of surface mimesis that valorizes precisely the breaking up of the subject and the continuity of modernity; this tactic leads them to a self-parody, a form of self-deconstruction whose paradoxes leave us totally mystified.
Of course, it would be a gross overstatement to claim that these newcomers can possibly form a canon or a "school". Certainly, they have things in common, as they have substantial differences. What is positive in all this, is that their presence provides a much needed alternative discourse to the modernist aesthetics of mainstream theatre. The deterritorialization, the immaterialization, the explicit historicity, the heterogeneity, the eclecticism and the plurality that characterize their plays stress the centrality of language and subjectivity as new fronts from which to rethink the issues of meaning, identity, and politics. In short, these plays provide a good example of what is most provocative on the contemporary Greek stage.
What I intend to do in the second part of this study is to examine very briefly representative plays of some of these new playwrights in the light of postmodernism and show to what extent they depart from the local semiotics of the modernist canon in search of the "post" state of language and subjectivity. To this end I will focus my attention on the work of Elias Lagios' s The Story of Lady Othello [E Istoria tes Lady Othello], Andreas Staïkos' s Clytemnestra?, 1843 and Karakorum, Claire Mitsotaki' s The Weird Discourses of Madame Bovary [E Paraxeni Logi tes Madam Bovary], Demetris Demiatriadis's The Beginning of Life [E Archi tes Zoes], and Yiorgos Veltsos' s Camera Degli Sposi, all written in the last decade and produced by professional companies.
 Elias Lagios's The Story of Lady Othello is an appropriation of Shakespeare's Othello. In this deconstructed his/her-story the figure of Lady Othello holds centre stage, while Othello is deterritorialized and dematerialized. "I acquired voice—do you hear me?—I screamed," Lady Othello says early in the play and goes on to add: "I'm not here to talk to you/ I came to bid you farewell./....You told me that you love me./ You told me: 'I have no words to tell you that.' And so, what? If that's the case, speak all alone, listen to yourself. I...I came to say goodbye" (Lagios 1992: 9). Story of Lady Othello: it begins at the end with four voices trying to rearticulate its remnants (Lady Othello, the Narrator, a radio Speaker and a Man-Othello). As the Narrator says: "Bitter, a very bitter erotic story, that' s been told. When; When; Since time immemorial. Aurality becomes the dominant determining mode of expression. It is an aurality that attends not to the produced symbolic order of things, but rather listens to hear the seductive noises which mark the labyrinthine meanderings of the processes of Lady Othello's personal ritual. Lady Othello: "Thus come crashed language, broken language, slaughtered, cut to pieces language of mine, come to speak" (1992: 11). She talks to her invisible Master, who reaches her as voice. She begs him: "Voice, stop. Stop right now.... It's time to shut up" (1992: 12). The story of Lady Othello is a story we do not see, we simply hear in fragments, the same way we hear the minimalist music of Reich and Glass, where, as Docherty remarks, "the extremely slight modulations which are made as the work progresses make it very difficult to assimilate and recognize. It is always difficult to recall the precise moment when the modulation of a chord takes place during the rendition of the piece. While listening to this kind of work, then, one tends to begin to hear what is not there" (Docherty 1990: 29). Narrator: "Story of Lady Othello. Listen....Open the radio. Story of Lady Othello" (1992: 14-15). Lady Othello exists through her recorded voice. At the same time, she wants to alter the story she strives to hear by hearing what is not there, by making the work which is the object of her aural perception different from itself. At one point she wants to return her voice to him, disregarding the fact that in this way she may bring about her own dramatic death, her self-erasure. After all, she knows that her subjective identity is itself a myth, a construct of language, an overdetermined illusion. Narrator: "What's in all this, then? Let it be. Story of Lady Othello" (1992: 26). Everything is like theatre: "Darkness. Curtain. Music. Lights. The story of Othello"  (1992: 29). "Story of Lady Othello. A common, cheap, love story. Over and over again....How many times have you seen it.... What are you going to do? In a little while you will completely forget it" (1992: 31).
Lagios parodies the original text; he has fun facing the (im)possibilities of the narrative and multiplying its meanings. He comments, participates, prepares us for what is to come which we already know and thus hear before it is actually there. He invites us to look again at this discarded person of history who foretells and forehears the modulations of her story anachronistically. Like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of Tom Stoppard, Lady Othello remembers and narrates how she died; her inscribed image precedes the reality it is supposed to represent. "Do not despair," she and the narrator say in the final scene; "you will meet again. Slaves of time, you will meet again. Here.... Goodnight, the story of Lady Othello" (1992: 51). Operating like a floating signifier in a narrative contaminated by the erosion of original meaning, Lady Othello looks at herself from a distance, as if she is something else, beyond the materiality of herself. Disseminated into the absolute immanence of sign play, Lady Othello becomes a postmodern bricoleur who plays around with fragments she herself has not created. She experiences herself afloat in an endless interplay of images which she can, at best, parody, simulate or reproduce, like the author himself. From the beginning of her story to the end she ceaselessly wanders about in a labyrinth of light and noise, in a limitless interplay of mirrors, endeavoring to piece together bits of a discontinuous mode of existence. In this view, Lady Othello, the individual subject, the Shakespearean creation, is not the source of self-knowledge nor are her views of the world constituted through the exercise of an authentic and autonomous mode of understanding and knowledge. Her subjectivity is multiple, layered and nonunitary, "constituted out of and by difference and remains contradictory" (Grossberg 1986: 56). Lady Othello is doomed to be swallowed up by multiplying images which reflect neither the outer world nor the inner world of subjectivity; they can only reflect themselves.
Something analogous happens in Andreas Staïkos oeuvre. From his first play Clytemnestra? (1987) through his more recent ones (the Feathers of an Ostrich [Ftera Strouthokamilou,1994] is a good example), Staïkos plays the game of postmodern smuggling, a clever "shilly shally" with tradition and his mentors (Greek and French). In Clytemnestra? Staikos chooses for his subject matter a familiar text (Sophocles' play) to talk about the problem of subjectivity. He "dis-covers" two "mis-interpreted" heroines (Clytemnestra/Electra) backstage and brings them forward to tell us their own erotic metahistory, to explain in their own words the reasons of their rage. In his play Clytemnestra and Electra are actresses, always on the road, performing their little story whenever and wherever they can. Like Vladimir and Estragon, the two heroines spend their stage time playing over and over again their repertory: a bricolage of other discourses, traditions, and signs. They unfold the details of an imaginary life, where every gesture is turned into another "pre-scribed" theatrical sign. In this endless give and take they remember how they killed and how they will kill. They are two ghosts of a completed past that fight for space to mount their own absence, to become a postmodern icon, a simulacrum in a contemporary performance. They look at themselves from a distance, from the position of an omniscient rhapsode, as if they are something "other". Like Lagios's Lady Othello, every time they take their bow they will have to wait for the next performance to acquire presence and talk about their imprisonment and inscription. In the meantime, "the overused paper-moon and the trunk with their costumes" which they carry with them will remind them of the roles they will have to play again "from scratch" (1987: 33).
The situation we encounter in Karakorum (1991) is similar. In the middle of the biggest desert in the world two whores, Her Highness and Surnuaz, and their pimp Joleph, reflect on their lives on their way to Karakorum where they expect to open a brothel and make money. In the manner of Genetãs heroes/heroines, Her Highness talks about the secrets of her performance: "The warehouse is inexhaustible, full of thousands...of women, simulations of women— because I am not a woman. I am a woman's simulation—a woman withers....The image is indomitable, indestructible, incomprehensible. Thousands of female simulacra, with red hair.... thousands of times the same [woman], thousands of times myself. In the middle of the room in the shape of a prism, with mirrors instead of walls—the reflection of our trickery multiplies itself..." Like Genet's Irma in The Balcony, Her Highness, secure behind the mask, carries out her theatrical games, allowing her customers to touch her, feel the surface of her skin. There is no philosophy of truth here or any notions of meaning, reference and value. The opposition between the imaginary and the real is dissolved. Her Highness reproduces form on form rather than providing form from matter; her play of surface mimesis speaks only about its own process of reproduction. As she tells us, "everything about depth is fairy tales, mirage." (1991: 77). In this manner she remains uninvolved, an absent presence that tempts and seduces through lying, through the alibi of her image and her alterity: "I, I/ tell the lie like truth/ The lie for me is truth/ I am the hallucination, the mirage./ I am the lie..." (1991: 85). After all, "who cares about causes and effects" (1991: 85), her friend Surnuaz asks. In this seductive narrative "there is no end—nor a beginning"(1991: 91); there is no paradigm for constructing paradigms. Love has nothing authentic about it; it is the identification with the image (1991: 91). The only ideal left in this play is cynicism and appropriation. The characters are paralyzed by the performance and cannot leave "their theatre." They love deceiving us as much as they love deceiving each other. Nothing is self-evident. They accept representation as "re-presentation", which means that they offer no direct or more real access to the signified (Hutcheon 1990: 34). The epistemological status of their performance remains undecidable to the very end. The viewer cannot go beyond the deconstructive labyrinth of their-story. He will never go beyond and behind the image.
In similar fashion, Staïkos chooses for his next work 1843 (1991) the technique of the play-within-a-play to set up a new parodic paradigm. 1843 is a postmodern play that turns history and race into theatre and theatre into a topos of simulacra. The whole story unfolds around the recovered play of Alexandros Sakellariou, Thysia [Sacrifice] that refers to the revolution of 1821 against the Ottoman Turks and which a group of amateur actors decide to produce in 1843 on the island of Syros. With the help of a multi-layered structure Staïkos turns everything into a game where the mask becomes the organizing principle. The characters circumvent a troubled and troubling historicity by retreating into a private pseudo-world of representations. In their mind, the real and the unreal are impossible to distinguish. As Panayiotis Argyropoulos, one of the leading characters of the play, begs Olga, "swear that you will never stop lying to me"(1991: 52); and Olga, of course, has no problem: "The truth I tell like a lie, the lie is truth to me"(1991: 58). Seduction through a pseudo-performance is the only truth of their re-presentation that temporarily comes to an end when the characters-actors line up on stage to take their bow. 
 With this play Staïkos goes a step further: he not only comments on the concept of subjectivity but also demythologizes the romanticism and the idealized version of Greece's most important "grand narrative": the revolution against the Ottoman Turks in 1821. He exposes the historical process through a parade of re-presentations. As Manto, another leading female character, says after the production of Thysia: "From here onwards Greece and its future will be a political rally, with shows against memory and shows simulacra of memory, during national days, also simulacra of national days" (Staïkos 1991: 67). History as continuity becomes history as colage. Clearly, the author is not simply parodying the historical process; he re-reads and re-writes Greece's history, from the vantage point of a postmodern openness. Deconstructing history's icons, in a game of open possibilities, Staïkos critically reassesses its own traditions, retells its own stories. His hermeneutic reading forges a new alliance where the officially neglected dimension of a premodern and postmodern paradigm converge and breathe new life into our reading of history. Staikos's imagination is fundamentally historical. It envisions what things were like before and might be like after postmodernism. In short, 1843 reworks the unconscious legacy of Greek modernity by working it through in a radical fashion—exposing and re-examining its unacknowledged assumptions, confronting the crisis of its ending.
Claire Mitsotaki's The Weird Discourses of Madame Bovary is one of the best feminist plays of Greek theatre (Patsalidis 1996: 93-95). Through this adaptation of Flaubert's masterpiece Mitsotaki dramatizes the spirit of female desires. She wants to tell "her-story", by staging the "obscene" body and its inner life as well as affirming the truth of the heroine's private world. The gender roles, so typical in Greek drama, are here reversed. Emma is now the "absolute master of the world of the living" (1992: 29), since she operates beyond the logic of patriarchal society. She is "an-other" person, incomprehensible to those who are in charge of the power game. Her lover Leon, for example, is nothing else but a "shy child," very different from the Greek male stereotype. Next to Emma he stands no chance to win the game. So he abandons himself in her hands. "He responds," Emma tells us. "He has learned to be liked....through obedience" (1992: 27). Emma clearly controls her fate as well as the fate of others (1992: 29). She dismantles the myths and the clichés of society.
Although the mother, according to societal norms, is the one responsible for educating her offspring, for Emma the child is something that belongs to her "and yet is totally incomprehensible" (1992: 31). Emma' s dreams are not made up of "needles, pages, and books;" they are "bones, muscles, nerves, blood, and tissues that want to breathe the air that belongs to them" (1992: 32). Through her dreams and actions, Emma searches for the highest form of personal fulfillment: to be one with her dreams (1992: 32). When she was an innocent child at the convent, she tells us, she used to engrave all those dreams and desires on dishes (1992: 32). Now she uses her body and the body of others to inscribe the details of her erotic narrative. In this way, she becomes the master of her self and its unspoken "otherness". Her self-conscious monologue is a postmodern elegy of love and life celebrating the female body's womanness. Mitsotaki affirms the truth of her character' s life and the vitality of her perceptions. This provides a context in which she can place female emotional and erotic reality on stage. Dispensing with the standard practices of realistic theatre—surface detail, the sequence of events tightly controlled by cause and effect—she welcomes opportunities to treat femaleness in new ways. Her Emma radically disrupts Greek mainstream culture by living at peace with her erotic choices, thus reclaiming her body and her sexuality. Her actions and reactions de-naturalize the traditional distinction between the private and the public, the personal and the political, the male and the female.
With a new form, a new understanding of theatre' s representational dynamics, Mitsotaki not only projects a different image of women, of the female body and its historicity, but also shows how a concern with gender roles can avoid the tight embrace of indigenous theatre practice and create instead a vibrant discourse in which the submissive, self-sacrificing, humble female soul may gradually escape.
 Culture as metaphor and culture as reality is interested in having roots, in claiming its own unique space. Contrary to this, Yiorgos Veltsos' s first work for the theatre, Camera Degli Sposi (1994), openly dramatizes its own deterritorialization and inauthenticity. It is a play that has no plot or fully developed characters. Everything revolves around a painting by Mondegna exhibited in the "Camera" of the Palace of Mandova. Most of the play's concepts are generated as theoretical constructs meant to perform certain interpretive tasks; in other words, they are not transparent terms that merely reflect dramatically established states of affairs. Drawing heavily on French theorists, Veltsos structures a stage microcosm that resembles the Socratic dialogues. There is a constant argument and counter-argument that problematizes the basic notions of modernity and throws reality into question. There is, as it were, no material reality, no uncontestable "reality" that lies veiled behind the visible signs of the stage. The play, according to the author himself, is the "result of an incest" (1994: 60); it is the stage version of eros born out of the "prostitution of [the author's ] eyes" (1994: 64). "Influences; it is not authentic," the leading character "She" tells us. "Flashes," another character ("He") adds. "Teratogenesis," "She" answers back and then asks: "When are you finally going to grow up and be a man? For how long are you going to be screwed up by your ancestors?" (1994: 29). Yet, "He" insists, anchored in the traces of his own pre-scription. "The dead are alive in me. And this is the linguistic cause of my guilt... However, I will not apologize for their gathering inside me" (1994: 29). Similarly, the author, who is equally "guilty" and "unprotected," does not intend to apologize either. Instead, he goes on and lists all those who have informed and shaped his "simulation": Tirso de Molina, Aristotle, Mallarmé, Eliot, Keats, Rilke, Sophocles, Nietzsche, Shakespeare, Pound, Dante, Moliere, da Vinci, Picasso, Klosowski, Madegna. "My purpose," Veltsos writes, "was that the fresco wouldn't operate as performance, wouldn't offer the equivalent of the master on the wall, but to narrate, to tell that it is itself a phenomenon that narrates how it provides the phenomenon" (1994: 49); and later on he comes back to add:  "Reflections within reflections" inside the four walls of the room (1994: 61). In Camera Degli Sposi everything is projected as an invention, a "conspiracy" without an authority (1994: 61). Every "other" sign next to the portraits of the fresco is "an-other" sign; and everybody is and is not central (1994: 62-63).
Veltsos in Camera names, un-names, writes, erases, plagiarizes. There is nothing left to transmit; only his inability to be original. His psychic world is as colonized as the physical world by the whole image industry. His eye is not innocent. What he sees and tells us is invariably informed by prefabricated images. The image precedes the reality it is supposed to represent, as Kearney demonstrates in his interesting book The Wake of Imagination (1988: 2). Or, to put it in another way, reality has become a pale reflection of the image. "The eye of the author, the eye of the spectator, the eye of the actor, the eye of the figures" air the close space of the representation and provide it with multiple meanings. Veltsos' s play is a hall full of images and texts that are always somewhere else; images and texts which simulate each other in a limitless interplay of mirrors. Camera displays its own artificiality, its own representational depthlessness. In this labyrinth of endless (dis)play and reflections, whoever is involved become a voyeur. “We speak and observe," as the play's Angel says, "because others have observed and talked on our behalf" (1994: 67).
  "The representation itself," Docherty argues, "exists in order to 'evoke' that supposedly prior presence, more or less successfully." It is a "kind of imagining, an 'imagination' of some presence or reality, whose essential status goes unquestioned.... in this form, it makes the world of nature accessible to human consciousness...and works to assure that consciousness of its knowledge of the world. The representation merely 'figures' for us what we already know; where the world can be 'cognized', the representation consolidates such ideological 'knowledge' by making it 're-cognizable'" (Docherty 1990: 97-98). Plato, in his Cratylus, suggests that perfect representation is, in fact, by virtue of its perfection, no longer representation at all. Also, Genette claims that "perfect imitation is no longer an imitation, it is the thing itself" (qtd. in Docherty 1990: 100). Representation, in other words, can only be "representation" if it is always already a misrepresentation; like metaphor, it depends upon a dissimilarity between itself and its implied referent. In this sense, Velstos is antipathetic to representation. His play establishes such a dissimilarity or difference precisely at the moment of claiming an identity between itself and its referents. As Docherty observes again, "it is in the moment of producing this 'alterity' of representation, this difference from a correspondent object, that it attains the status of representation as such and not as 'the thing itself'" (Docherty 1990: 100). In similar fashion, Veltsos' s representations produce their own simulacra, which are always deceptive and misrepresentative, and consequently ironic.
Last but not least is Demetris Demetriadis's play The Beginning of Life [E Arche tes Zoes, 1994], which I think is his most ambitious and challenging effort to date. Abandoning the basic operational tools of local realism and modernism Demetriadis weaves a complex web of interlocking narratives where local tradition and postmodernity create an intricate microcosm of mystery, of misplaced dreams and of (inter)national hatreds. Within this multi-layered structure six characters (three men and three women) consciously play with the fragments of an absent (his)story which they hate as much as they need; it is their alibi that guarantees their stage presence and determines the pairs of their performance: self-other, Christian-Muslim, past-present, matriarchy-patriarchy, master-slave. As Stephanos Lazaridis, the director of the play's first production at "Theatro tou Notou" (1994), notes in his interview with the author, "each dramatis personae complements the other...[he] does things somebody else did before him; [he] transforms, reverses and, certainly, takes somebody else's position" (Demetriadis 1994b: 5). In this Jean Genet-like world, the question of identity, personal and national, is once again thrown into question. Darios Fernazis, for example, the play's leading character, is a split personality who not only pretends to be Constantinos Paleologos, the last emperor of Constantinople, but he also performs acts of cannibalism: he first mutilates and then eats the men his wife Anastasia provides him with, hoping in this way to avenge his mother's murder by his father when he was a child. Darios Fernazis also desires Mohammed, who is symbolically presented as the "otherness" within that he does not want to acknowledge and he desperately tries to reject as a foreign body. As Demetriadis himself explains in the Programme of the production, the final meeting between the Christian Darios Fernazis-Paleologos and the Muslim Mohammed coincides with the Fall of Constantinople (1453), a historical fact that in the play acquires erotic connotations. The looting that follows the Fall, Demetriadis explains, is deliberately transformed into an orgy in which both sides have their share (1994b: 5-6). While this goes on, Romanos, the other leading male, Christian, Greek-Byzantine character, changes roles and becomes Mohammed, hoping to acquire through this mask the power he so much desires. Interestingly enough the only characters that survive in the end are the three women, who are called to play the role of men as well. It is because of this that the director asked Demetriadis to change the original title of his play from The End of Life to the Beginning of Life, underlining in this way the importance of women, both as life-givers and survivors.
It is obvious that playwrights like Staïkos, Lagios, Mitsotaki, Veltsos, and Demetriadis cast a suspecting glance at the humanist vision of man as a free and sovereign artificer determining his/her own nature without constraint from any barrier. Of course, they do not deny the creative subject any role whatsoever in the shaping of history. Their goal is to deconstruct the self as fetishized origins and stress the significance of mediation. In this sense, the "ex-centric" characteristics of their dramatic paradigms help them transcend the limits of egocentric consciousness—thereby exploring different possibilities of existence. Their logic is one of both/and rather than either/or. It is inclusive and, by extension, tolerant. It allows opposites to stand, irreconcilables to co-exist, refusing to deny the claim of one for the sake of its contrary. This discourse is most immediately obvious as a play of words or indeed any instance of language laughing at its own contradictions, refusing to take itself too seriously, having the humility to go on playing even when its consciously intended meaning is humiliated, its will to power exposed, its ego wounded (Kearney 1988: 368). The poetics of these plays exist without why; they are a carnival of possibilities where everything is permitted, nothing is censored (Kearney 1988: 370). By deconstructing fetishized pseudo-images of selfhood and origins into a play of undecidable possibilities the plays bring us closer to the threshold of "an-other" aesthetic and "an-other" ideological understanding of things and of "Greekness."

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______ (1994b). E Arche tes Zoes. Programme. Athens: Theatro tou Notou.
Docherty, Thomas (1990). After Theory: Postmodernism/Postmarxism. London: Routledge.
Grammatas, Thodoros (1992). Istoria ke Theoria ste Theatrike Erevna. [History and Theory in Theatre Research]. Athens: Tolidis Bros.
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    Furthermore, the general unrest all around the world galvanized the years to come. The Cuban revolution, the birth of the non-aligned countries as a new political force, the anti-colonial war in Cyprus as well as the many struggles for independence about the globe, all contributed to this sense of historical urgency.
[ii]    Their search, of course, was still circumscribed within national borders. An international vision, a transnational social project had not as yet emerged. Immersed as it was in its own national historical process and isolated in the most southern part of Europe, modern Greek theatre faced transnational history with some apprehension that delayed its disentanglement from the local context and its dynamic entrance into the world arena. Even so, its achievements are not to be minimized.
[iii]    Anagnostaki, for example, the first established woman playwright, moves from the nightmarish "eliotesque" environment of her early one-acters (E Poli [The City] is a good example) to more open fields with strong sociopolitical overtones (E Kaseta [The Casette], O Echos tou Oplou, [The Sound of the Gun] and Diamandia ke Blues [Diamonds and Blues]). Pavlos Matesis shifts from the surrealist play Teleti [Ceremony] and the utopia of Biochemia [Biochemistry] to something different with the play Lyke, Lyke [Wolf, Wolf]. Stratis Karras begins his career as a playwright with the "absurdist" Nychtophylakes [Nightwatchmen] and the "pinteresque" Palestes [Wrestlers] to end with the realistic play Mouggos [Mute]. Yiorgos Skourtis (following Ionesco) writes early in his career the sarcastic play Dadades [Spiritual Fathers] and goes on with the "brechtian" play Apergia [Strike] and the historical comedy Komodia tou Vasilia Iougourtha [The Comedy of King Iougourtha] (Puchner 1990: 42-43). Besides these names one can also mention the work of Margarita Lymberaki, Manolis Korres, Nikos Zakopoulos, Paris Takopoulos, Petros Markaris, and younger playwrights like Yiorgis Christophilakis, Yiannis Chrysoulis, Yiorgos Dialegmenos, Metsos Efthimiades, Yiorgos Papakyriakes, Alexis Sevastakis, Antonis Doriades, Babis Tsikliropoulos etc. who have kept the Greek stage busy and "uneasy" ever since.

First published in the European Journal for Semiotic Studies 8.4 (1996): 667-688


ΣΑΒΒΑΣ ΠΑΤΣΑΛΙΔΗΣ / Savas Patsalidis

ΣΑΒΒΑΣ ΠΑΤΣΑΛΙΔΗΣ / Savas Patsalidis

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