Lefteris Voyiatzis returns to comedy in one of Moliere’s most celebrated plays

It has been quite a while since we last enjoyed a good comedy at Lefteris Voyiatzis’s small, yet marvelous, 22-year-old Kykladon Street Theater. Now the veteran actor/director is making a comedic comeback with a run of Moliere’s «L’Ecole des Femmes» (The School for Wives), featuring a select group of actors and actresses. «L’Ecole des Femmes» is a verse comedy in five acts. It was performed for the first time at the Palais Royal in Paris on December 26, 1662, and it was published the following year by De Luynes. The play was a huge success, playing to packed houses in and around Paris for eight solid months. However, its content also sparked off a literary war against Moliere, who was accused of being impious and vulgar. A daring play In a recent interview, Voyiatzis explained that one of the reasons he chose to put on this play was its translation, by Chryssa Prokopaki, and that he has been intending to present Moliere again, ever since he did «Le Misanthrope» eight years ago. «It was a very daring play for its time,» he says of «L’Ecole des Femmes,» «because it addressed issues that made Moliere the target of many conservative parties at the time he wrote it.» What sort of issues? First and foremost, the unimaginable concept, for the time, of a woman’s right to pleasure, to the beauty of a physical and intellectual relationship, to women’s position generally in love, but also their right to money and power. Could you explain the play in your own words? There’s a mature man, Arnolphe, played by me, who will not marry because he is mortally terrified of being cuckolded, a primal fear, a trap for men. In order to cover all of his bases, he adopts a 4-year-old girl, locks her up in a convent to make sure she will grow up pure and in fear of sin, so he can marry her when she’s older, when he can do as he likes with her – what hides behind this, of course, is his need to have the upper hand, to feel powerful, something commonly felt by men at that time. The play was a great success from its first performance, but it did provoke a lot of reaction, even scandal, and about which other plays and poems were written. Does the man become a cuckold after all? How can you go against the grain of nature? When she grows up, the girl (Agnes, played by Angeliki Papoulia), who is absolutely terrified of her patron, falls in love with the first dashing young man who passes under her balcony (Horace, played by Nikos Kouris). He happens to be the son of a friend of Arnolphe’s who comes from a different town, and when the two men meet, Horace’s father tells Arnolphe the whole story. Arnolphe, of course, is flabbergasted but he doesn’t say anything so that he can continue to receive reports of how the affair is going. This must provoke quite a series of comic events and misunderstandings. Of course, only that there’s also something very somber about it all, very dark, because this man falls victim to his own mentality. Moliere’s farcical elements are very complex. They are funny, but also very dark, very bleak. This disagreeable man, Arnolphe, is a man who lives his life in fear without even recognizing it. He’s like all these fascist types we see around us every day who are the first to start shaking in their boots and the last to admit it… Even so, there is still something that is almost pitiable about such people in the end. How do you feel about tackling a comic role again after such a long time? I really like this role, and not just for its comedy. With Moliere, you can always expect something unexpected to pop out from around the corner… Also, there are certain elements in the play that were relevant only in its own time and that we were unable to reproduce for our performance. How have you dealt with that? I am neither setting the play in its own time nor in the present. At first, I though it would work in the 1950s, which was more conservative. Then – and I don’t even know where this came from – I started getting these images of Jacques Tati films. This idea evolved over time and began taking on color from the 1950s, the circus, variety theater. The set shows a street, but it is very unusual – for example, you see the actors walking across the stage either from the chest up, or as if their heads are touching the ceiling. There are many theatrical twists in the set design, such as streets that appear to be made of grass, square gardens like labyrinths, staircases, an acrobat’s trapeze, trapdoors, columns of light that suddenly seem to bend into weird shapes – it’s completely mad… How does it all fit together? Well, we did have to pull down the theater again! What we created, though, gives us the freedom to apply a combination of different elements in the performance; a bit of the burlesque, very elegantly presented, of course, something from the circus, a dash of variety theater. I wanted to make reference to all these, but in a subtle way… There are many scenes constructed like this. Like an independent system, a world that has its own modus vivendi. That’s what I wanted to create, an entire world. Moliere’s «L’Ecole des Femmes» at the Kykladon Street Theater (11 Kefallinias & Kykladon, tel 210.821.7877), Tuesdays-Saturdays 9.30 p.m., Sundays 8 p.m. Tickets 20 euros (14 euros for students).

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