Kambanellis, Chekhov, Beckett

What could be the link between Anton Chekhov, Iakovos Kambanellis and Samuel Beckett? Hard to say at first glance. Greek actor Dimitris Kataleifos, however, appears to have found a common denominator among three of the celebrated playwrights’ one-act plays and is staging them in a performance at Andonis Antypas’s Aplo Theater. Directed by Panos Papadopoulos, the production is titled «Three Steps Before,» and features the following plays: «Aftos kai to Pandeloni Tou» (He and his Trousers) by Kambanellis, «Swan Song» by Chekhov, and «Krapp’s Last Tape,» by Beckett. What led you to stage a performance featuring only one-act plays? It has to do with these specific plays; they’ve been on my mind for the last five years. I consider each of these three plays a little masterpiece… Why focus on these three specifically? Because they share a common underlying theme, one which flows through each of them and makes them look like a triptych. You get the feeling that from one play to the next something is completed, as if it were the course of one man’s life. And all this despite the fact that they were written by different playwrights during different periods in different countries… Ladder of life One does wonder what could possibly link all three. What links all three is the element of time; that is the underlining theme of our performance. These one-act plays make up something similar to a ladder of life, and that’s why I was so keen to connect them in one single performance – it was an idea which right from the start I shared with director Panos Papadopoulos. It so happened that we presented the Beckett play at the Cultural Olympiad’s Monologues last fall. So the first step on this so-called ladder is Kambanellis? Yes, that’s how the show begins. The play is about a middle-aged man with a hole in his trousers. The hole acts as a metaphor, sparking a life crisis, as the hero sees that his hopes for a better life are diminishing. The play is set in postwar Greece, in the 1950s, and through this character we can see a lot of the traits we recognize in ourselves. This is the moment when you realize that you are no longer a young man; that time is ticking. This is the starting point of the end. What about Chekhov? The Chekhov character is a theater man, an actor in provincial troupe, who is reaching 70. It’s a difficult time, especially for a man, because the time is coming for him to retire. He has just acted in his «farewell performance» and there is no future left for him. He is finished as an actor, he’s giving up his profession – and that is a crucial moment in one’s life… Beckett? The Beckett play is the harshest of the three. Here the hero is already in his 80s, he is a not-very-successful author. It’s his birthday and he is going over his life, listening to himself on an old tape, talking about things he used to say when he was 40. He realized that his life never really had any true meaning, except for one ideal moment, when he came into contact with another person, a woman – a sensual moment. So if there’s anything worth living for, it’s really about these moments. What is nice here is that the 80-year-old man listens to himself at the age of 40, exactly the same age of the Kambanellis character. Theater stage How do you deal with three different works on a single stage in terms of set design? Since the Chekhov play takes place in a theater, we placed all three plays in the theater. We used the same objects, a chair, a table, but gave them a wearing-off element each time. Time is reflected in the objects just like in the characters. There are other common elements; they all take place at nighttime, for instance. Kambanellis’s play is incredibly interesting – in the beginning I was afraid it would focus too much on morality, in comparison with the other two. In the end, it was wonderful, a diamond of the Greek repertoire. I am very touched to be given the chance to perform these plays, even though they are very tiring. It’s not just the texts, but the fact that you have to change the way you look, there’s makeup – it’s like a two-hour race. Has the theater made you really tired, after all these years? Absolutely not, and I’m very happy about this. On the contrary, now I feel more in love with theater than at the age of 20. Time How do you, personally, feel about the way time goes by? As far as I’m concerned, theater is a refuge. Even though I’ve reached 50, there’s something that makes me feel like a 17- or a 20-year-old. Perhaps this is due to the theater’s imaginary quality, or even the contact I have with the young actors at the drama schools where I teach. I believe we feel old when we feel bad about ourselves, whether physically or mentally. That’s when time going by becomes painful. I’m not afraid of time in terms of going gray, putting on weight and living with wrinkles. Everything feels ugly when you’re not well – and this is valid at the age of 30 as well. Are you at all worried about the fact the production opens during pre-election time? It really is the worst time. But we had scheduled this since last year. There are not a lot of days left until the elections and I hope that people will get over this. Andonis Antypas’s Aplo Theater, 4 Harilaou Trikoupi, tel 210.922.9605. The production’s avant-premiere has been scheduled for tonight.