CULTURE

Electra of night and wilderness

Grief certainly suits Electra, but who exactly is Electra? Especially Euripides’ Electra, this moral wreck who has reached the point of making life itself an enemy. Yet Euripides’ «Electra» is not a play that is performed as often as we imagine. It is certainly not performed as often as Sophocles’ softer, more human «Electra,» and in Greece it has not been performed for all of 15 years, since Costas Tsianos staged that unforgettable production at the Thessaliko Theater with Lydia Koniordou in the title role in 1988. The play will be staged at Epidaurus tomorrow and on Saturday by the Municipal Theater of Patras, directed by Themis Moumoulidis and with Karyofyllia Karabeti as Electra and Mayia Lyberopoulou as Clytemnestra. The production has a «modern approach and an abstract aesthetic,» says Karabeti, while also emphasizing, as do all the production’s principal characters, that «great weight has been given to the word, to the expression of the text.» And Electra? Who is Euripides’ Electra for the lead actor who will play her, and who only a few years ago embodied the other, Sophoclean Electra? «Euripides’ heroine is dark, demonic, a creature of the night and the wilderness,» says Karabeti. «Revenge is her obsession, her hatred tempestuous, she is a character driven to extremes. She doesn’t hope, she cannot be happy – not even at the moment she recognizes her brother Orestes is she happy. In the end she breaks down, as does Orestes, from the horror of her action, the weight of her anguish. Divine commandment has crushed human consciousness, it has created two moral wrecks.» «I confess that Electra’s obsession frightens me,» says Moumoulidis, the play’s director. «I’m caught between Electra and Clytemnestra, whom we present as justified to the eyes and ears of our audience. Lyberopoulou’s Clytemnestra is a radiant character in our production, and we sought this from the translation. In our production, the speech has quality, it’s poetic, sometimes more lyrical, other times more harsh. It was especially written for the character we wanted, with our very conscious breathings and needs of our own, which we asked for from the translation. And I must say that the translator Costas Georgosopoulos has done an excellent job, precise, modern, poetic.» This is the first time that Moumoulidis has directed ancient tragedy and, of course, his first production at Epidaurus. Although he had been presented with the opportunity in the past, he didn’t accept it as he did not yet feel ready. «But I was always interested, very much so, because I believe that the theater, first of all, is the word, and everything else comes afterward. And tragedy is the theater of the word par excellence.» As such, the production has focused most of all on the word. Moumoulidis chose Euripides’ «Electra» because he believes that Euripides in general, and this play especially, «is very modern, the closest to us.» It has characters that are «inscribed in a fashion that is completely modern,» «charming choruses,» and is «a play that is very condensed compared to the others,» a play «where time has a particular role, something that we made sure to emphasize in our production.» The difficulties in staging such a play are many, «the main one being the effort to keep a unified style in the speech.» For all the actors to be able to speak in the same code, as far as expressing the words, that is. «Because for me,» continues the director, «its greatness begins with the speech, I want to be able to hear the content clearly. Not to ‘read,’ but to ‘interpret’.» This was not the only difficulty. The structure of the play also presented them with other problems. They made certain changes: The performance does not begin with the monologue by the Farmer / Clytemnestra’s husband, but with the first song by the Chorus. «We were driven to this and to some other scene movements so as to break up the many monologues at the beginning because of the way time operates in the production,» Moumoulidis explains. Director’s question And the Chorus – What to do with the Chorus? – the question plaguing the director of any tragedy. «I followed a path that, in my opinion, is unavoidable. It doesn’t isolate the songs by the Chorus from the acts; on the contrary, it makes them lead into each other, the one enters the other, there is a harmonic succession. I also tried to break up the Chorus as a ‘body,’ to create individuals where I could, characters, yet ones whose behavior is unified in certain scenes. In some places, they are distinct, and elsewhere they co-exist. But the Chorus is not at all isolated, it does not stand immobile in a corner of the stage awaiting its turn. Its members observe events from up close and participate. Difficult, but we tried it, and I think that this production achieves a great deal of coherence and continuity in this direction.» This is why all the rehearsals for the characters in the play (Karabeti, Lyberopoulou, Dimitris Alexandris, Haris Sozos, Arto Apartian, Yiannis Dalianis, Pericles Vassilopoulos, Panayiotis Tsevas) and the Chorus (with Melina Vamvaka and Yianna Nikolopoulou at the head) are being held jointly, not separately for characters and Chorus. Are there singing and dancing in the Chorus pieces? «Of course there is music, composed by Giorgos Andreou, which in places is tonal and other places atonal, in a way that fits well with the production. Of course there is song, more in some places and less in others; of course there is choreographed stage movements for each member of the Chorus and sometimes all of them together (directed by Aliki Kazouri), but a ‘Chorus’ in the sense that the action stops and ‘here we all sing and dance’ doesn’t exist. I think that our work on the Chorus has some interesting prospects, which we plan to continue next year with the Patras Municipal Theater.» «We will be staging a quartet of tragedies on the House of Atreus: ‘Iphigenia in Aulis,’ ‘Agamemnon,’ ‘Electra’ and ‘Eumenides’ in a unified performance. We will work for many months and perform it in closed spaces, industrial areas, etc., starting at the Ladopoulos factory in Patras.» In the meantime, after this summer’s performances at Epidaurus and throughout Greece, «Electra» will be performed in winter theaters here and abroad. Resisting image’s reign Mayia Lyberopoulou wanted to focus on a general, but fundamental, observation when talking about the production: «Our performance struggles with something that I consider of great importance today. Every consideration and interpretation of ancient drama must contain resistance to our current political climate. When they bring the bodies of Clytemnestra and Aegisthus onto the stage, the first words that are heard are ‘Cover them so that we cannot see their wounds.’ The first thing that contemporary civilization would do is to zoom straight in on the wounds. Theater today should not follow the trends of the day, where the image reigns. We must remember that there are things such as the word, thought, contemplation, unless we are to admit that they have nothing to do with our contemporary civilization. Ancient drama is theater in which things do not happen but awesome things are said. Personally, aside from being anxious about the production and my role, I am anxious as to whether we as an audience, as recipients, are worthy of these texts. Or whether we should come straight out and admit our defeat.»