A frightening yet charming Beast

Beauty – Anna is her name, but the Beast called her Beauty – is a girl who likes books and music, who, just like all girls her age, dreams of life yet fears it. And this is precisely what the Beast embodies, the attraction and the fear for the «other,» the other sex. The Beast is in love with the girl, but she will need to go through a great deal – a rite of initiation, let’s say – in order finally to say that she too loves the Beast and accepts him as he is. A miracle has taken place: The Beast has stopped being a beast. (Truly? In her eyes only? In any case, this is exactly what could happen to anyone when they fall in love.) «It’s one of the most delightful and beloved fairy tales,» says Xenia Kalogeropoulou, «and there are many versions of it all over the world. How does an inexperienced girl approach love? Because love also has its earthly, carnal side, and it is natural that this would frighten an adolescent. This is why there are many versions of the fairy tale, which is also associated with very ancient myths. There is the well-known version with the frog, when the girl kisses him and he turns into a prince; the African version where the young man is a crocodile; and there are other versions with lions, donkeys and snakes. Because love, when you don’t know what it is, is scary – regardless of whether you later end up enjoying the thing that frightened you!» Tried and tested Xenia Kalogeropoulou speaks with joy and humor. And she knows how to do this fantastically on stage as well, at her already historical Mikri Porta theater, for 30 years now. Her performances are always among the season’s best, and the same is likely to happen this year, as she will be staging a tried-and-tested work which was also a big hit seven years ago: «Beauty and the Beast,» a play that she wrote along with the director Thomas Moschopoulos. Does a play with such a theme interest those children who still have a long way to go before reaching adolescence? «It held great interest for us, so it should also interest children,» Kalogeropoulou says assuredly. «When the play was first staged we thought that little children shouldn’t come. But we realized we were wrong. Because love enchants you well before you encounter it yourself, when you are a small child. Children are very curious and touched by whatever has to do with love. It interests them, scares them, makes them dream. They follow very attentively and can understand when the girl begins to fall in love with the Beast and she passes through to another stage.» Three magic dresses help to make the adolescent girl’s passage to another phase clear. «They are women’s clothes, no longer girlish things, and the Beast has given them to her as a present. This is a very nice scenic contrivance by Thomas, as on stage the dresses walk on their own,» says Xenia Kalogeropoulou. «By wearing these clothes, the girl passes from one phase to another. At the end she wears the white dress, meaning that she accepts to become a bride, to give herself over to him completely, that is.» In this version, the girl does not give herself to the Beast out of pity and for his kind heart. «This is not a didactic interpretation,» Kalogeropoulou clarifies. «Here, she discovers that she is attracted to him. This is about desire.» But in order to reach this stage, the Beast also had to reveal his closely guarded secrets, the Three Secret Rooms in his tower. The one with the gardens, the second with the music, and the third with the mirrors, which pain him. «When Beauty goes into this room, she realizes what the Beast has hiding within him. She has gone on a journey where now she knows both herself and understands the other. The message of the play is that whatever you love becomes beautiful. And in order to be happy with someone, you must know yourself very well as well as him.» Better now Why, however, stage this play again? «It was very popular then, so we were always going to put it on again at some point. But we also liked it a lot,» Kalogeropoulou explains. «We could see that it needed some changes,» adds Thomas Moschopoulos, «but we had neither the time nor the cool to make them. We felt as though the play was incomplete.» «It was the first time that we had written together,» Xenia Kalogeropoulou tells us, «and it was also Thomas’s first time; I had already done ‘Odysevach’ and ‘Eliza.’ We wrote enthusiastically once we had discovered that we could write together, but we still hadn’t worked out exactly how to do this. We later discovered that each time, each play required a different method. With the ‘Family Noah,’ for example, it was better to write together. With ‘Sklavi’ which came next, however, we saw that it was better to do it a different way: We would discuss it, then I would write alone for a period and then we would look at it again together. It happened a bit like this with ‘Beauty.’ The important thing is that we have made the play better now. Much clearer, more comprehensible, briefer. There are now 18 fewer images, without anything really important having been cut.» «The previous version worked like a film scenario, with a sequence of images,» Moschopoulos explains. «Now many of the images have been condensed into scenes which are now fuller and with more intense encounters. We tried to reduce the special effects and to make it more abstract. In other words, nothing is explained. Last time we were very much influenced by psychoanalytical interpretations of the fairy tale, as though we wanted everyone to see what we had seen. Now it is better structured, I think; more theatrical, clearer, more direct.» The dramatic changes also brought necessary changes in the scenery and a new set design (Antonis Danglides), while the costumes (Clare Bracewell) and music (Nikos Kypourgos) have stayed the same. The choreography is by Eleni Gasouka and the lighting by Lefteris Papadopoulos. «I think the company is also now much more united,» says the director, «and I’m more effective with the actors, after seven years of work.» Maria Kordoni (Beauty), Giorgos Chrysostomou (the Beast), Thanasis Dimou, Anna Kalaitzidou, Antonis Karystinos, Katerina Louri and Betty Nikolesi are the excellent young actors of the current production. This new version of the play will be published by Ammos press, and a booklet for teachers with games relating to its message will also be released. «Beauty and the Beast,» at the Mikri Porta theater, 59 Mesogeion Avenue, tel 210.771.1333.