CULTURE

Playwright returns after long, 14-year absence from stage

Marios Pontikas is one of the most genuine voices of modern Greek theater during its apex, in the post-1974 period. Works of his, like «The Trombone» and «Lot’s Wife,» left their mark on that era of theater. From 1990 and for 14 years, he fell silent, but has now re-surfaced with a different play, «Laios’s Murderer and the Raven,» staged, as was often the case in the past, by Thanassis Papageorgiou and Leda Protopsalti’s Stoa Theater. During all those years did you stop writing or did you just not present your work? I was always writing, but I didn’t want to present my work. I have a lot of work I will soon finish. Could your 14-year absence be explained by the fact that the so-called marginal theater that prevailed after 1974 is now consumed and outdated? Maybe that was a reason, although I’m not sure I could call it outdated… My silence was imposed by a deeper need to think, to gather information and to observe the political, social and theatrical happenings and to see new ways of theatrical expression. In essence, my ease in writing made me stop. It’s torture for me not to write, and I was afraid that I would just produce the same things, so I put an end to it. You were scared by your ease in writing, but something else must have happened as well. I don’t think so… But maybe the harsh blow I received after the staging of «Orthos Logos» at the National Theater in 1988 was another factor. I am very insecure and expect a lot from myself. I don’t seek praise, especially in friendships and acquaintances, but the violent blow from the critics (except for the late Lignadis) possibly scared me and made me reconsider things. What is different in your play, currently staged by Stoa? It is definitely not about «marginal» people or situations, which is how my plays used to be described, nor is it a story with a beginning and an end. This play is different, both in its content and its form. Will these changes affect your work from now on? The changes are more general, unless at some point I feel the need to go back to my old ways. I don’t reject anything. I can’t belong to a specific school and all that; it restricts me. Every topic imposes the way it should be developed. I can still use my old way and undermine it, as I have done with a new play, «Entertainment.» It has a beginning and an end, but it is undermined by the very topic, because all the characters are dead. The first part of your new play could well stand as a monologue, but in the second part what does the woman-raven, who makes an appearance, represent? In the first part, the modern Oedipus tries to be precise and figure out what happened… The second part, where a raven with a human face appears like in the fairy tales, ridicules Oedipus’ effort. Words never help us, no matter how precise we try to be. And since Oedipus, who is not really a character but represents man, does not want to understand this deception, the raven comes along, representing Teiresias and, like Sophocles’ Teiresias, tells Oedipus: «yes, you are the murderer, you are the curse, what are you looking for?» The raven’s words are ironic and they undermine Oedipus’ faith in precise wording, which he considers to be reality. Because words are not enough, all the more so on the stage… Is that why you have not been tempted to write prose, as so many other playwrights have done the past few years? I already did that years ago, with two collections of short stories: the «Drapetis Girokomeiou,» which the dictatorship banned, and «Kleidarotrypa» in 1980. I enjoy writing short stories and I always write them, whereas I find it impossible to write a novel. There is also this great misunderstanding, that if we write 700 pages it must be a novel. I am trying to be moderate. At some point, I will get all the short stories I have written together once more. Do you earn a living out of writing or do you do other things as well? I was in advertising for 40 years and that is how I made my living. I also did television series for some time, like Tsirkas’s «Lost Spring.» I thought I could work for television and make some interventions, that the series wouldn’t be simply OK. And that proved to be a utopia. To a great extent, it did. The way that system works, even if there is some sort of intervention, it is absorbed very quickly. But I think I managed to resist television and not give in. Of course, now no one asks me to do things anymore, things have headed another way… Do you follow the modern Greek plays? Are there interesting new things? I follow them quite a lot. I think Greek playwrighting has started to blossom once more, both with new and older playwrights. Katsikonouris’s play, staged at the National Theater’s Experimental Stage, has clever, powerful and structured dialogues. There is also Michalis Dimou, staged at the National Theater’s New Stage, for whom I couldn’t say the same things but he does seem to have great potential. I suggested to the National Theater, as a member of the board of directors, instead of just promoting the staging of Greek plays to also promote their creation. Why is it, in your opinion, that the Left has almost become marginalized? Because that is what the elections show. I think it is because it did not manage to become modern and it didn’t catch up. It also no longer expresses the social Left, not in the sense of increasing wages, but from the point of view of modern rhetoric. Words must be aggressive and controlling, but at the same time intervening, with humor and imagination where needed. But this is not the case and that is why the Left has failed to catch up. Have things changed a lot in Greece since you first staged a play 32 years ago? Yes, back then we believed that the enemy was visible and that if the social system changed we would all be better off. But then things became more blurry… I think the current situation is confusing and one should face it with thoughtfulness, if not with silence. Not that there wasn’t any confusion in 1972, but this is something I can see in retrospect. Today confusion prevails. Apart from the confusion, do you not see any other change since ’72? Wouldn’t you say that living standards have improved? Yes, but I think this improvement is fake and I don’t consider fake happiness to indicate a better life. I even apply this to a financial level, because at some point we will find out that we are all heavily indebted. In general, this is deceptive, it is an illusion. Everything seems improved, whereas in reality it is destroyed… What is destroyed? Back then there was at least some perspective, I wouldn’t call it hope because eventually, everything is an illusion. A belief that something better might come along..