‘The Pre-Last of the Monikins,’ a play without beginning or end

Although three weeks have elapsed since I saw «The Pre-Last of the Monikins,» the memory of both its text and its performance continue to haunt me. My thoughts still linger on the many levels of this one-man play, whose multi-sided character, Monikin, is perhaps one of the most moving in modern drama. Having long been under the spell of Cavafy’s 154 poems, which I have been translating into English for some years now, I could very well empathize with Monikin’s loneliness, isolation, and quiet desperation. What I admired in Paris Tacopoulos’s play is the superb structure of the text, as well as the author’s inner courage, his penchant for self-dissection, his serene pride in the face of the inevitable, his humane vision of the world, his humility, and last but not least, his humor, which is the amalgamation and reflection of the above qualities. If I were asked to characterize this play, I’d call it a «propitiatory prayer,» an attempt to ward off life’s unending tragedy by the potent filter of spiritual honesty, by drinking several cups of high-quality «artistic veritas,» or, as the playwright would probably have called them, «in vino veritas»! This polyphonic self-debunking monologue is a jewel of its kind that has already survived the rigors of time. If I refer to the past, I do so because the play was written in 1966, presented by the Karolos Koun Art Theater in 1977, and still is, at least in its new adaptation, one of the best postmodern plays, world theater-wise, or unwise. As I sat riveted, ruminating on Monikin, I realized how little we get to know people, unless we do so fortuitously. As characters they are remorselessly revived by courageous playwrights, often possessing particular qualities of innocence and truthfulness. If only our theater companies had the same courage to present such plays more often! Luckily, this year we had the double good fortune to see the «Pre-Last of the Monikins» in Athens in two different productions: one, presented and acted by Nikos Kalamo at the New Hellenic Theater of George Armenis, and the other by Andreas Marianos at To Baraki tou Vassili. I, personally, may get a third chance this year to see Monikin, in its new English version at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Now that I have been acquainted with the several different Monikins in the play (if one includes the first one, the playwright himself) and the numerous ones portrayed in the sole main character of the play, I hope I won’t be subjected, some day, to the predicament of having to make a choice, for I have come to love them all! But enough about the play; «the actor also is the thing,» especially in such a play as the «Pre-Last of the Monikins.» Nikos Kalamo, founder of the Phytorio of Aegina, and an experienced actor and director who completed his studies at Stella Adler’s Conservatory of Acting in New York, has managed to be a mature and introverted Monikin, without the slightest exaggeration or easy mannerism. He showed respect for the text with all its linguistic acrobatics and its climaxes and anti-climaxes, in all its actions or inactions, and he managed eventually to give us a lovable, convincing and memorable Monikin. The music by Costas Mantzoros was very moving, and provided the right counterpoint to the play. The setting by Margarita Samara was also quite appropriate for the solitary room of a Monikin, and displays equal measures of skill and sensitivity. So was the lighting by Nikos Pexomatis, which helped considerably in enlivening the setting, as well as the play. The other «Pre-Last of the Monikins,» produced by the «One and His Friends» group and also played by an accomplished actor, Andreas Marianos, under the direction of the author, was another kind of Monikin. Marianios’s younger and more extroverted Monikin, i.e., more Greek, had a charm of his own, and was equally convincing. In his improvised emotional rendering of the character, without any betrayal of the author’s «logos,» he has managed to create a real – or should I say surreal – Monikin. Many other elements also contributed a great deal to yet another successful rendering of the play, notably the selection from the excellent music which Mantzoros wrote for the play, painter Dimitris Mytaras’s setting based on the original design for the Karolos Koun production, and the lighting by Dimitris Kordelas, along with the artistic assistance of Anastasia Bassa and Katerina Matrakouka. Finally the good taste and text selection in both programs, and especially their two well-designed covers by Alkis Ghinis and Dimitris Andreopoulos, merit special acknowledgment. All in all, two memorable Monikins appeared this year. I only hope that after this pair, and the third, English one to come at the Edinburgh Festival, there will be – to paraphrase Dylan Thomas – many others. And I make the same wish for Cavafy’s other plays, which may not be so numerous as his 154 poems, but still exceed 50. (A number of these I have lately discovered in the recent publication of his plays by Ellinika Grammata.) A last (and not pre-last) conclusion: C.P. Cavafy, a theater lover, would also have been touched by Monikin and perhaps would have commented on him: «To have come so far is no small matter; / to have done so much, is great glory.» (1) Evangelos Sachperoglou is a writer and a translator of Cavafy’s collected poems. «The Pre-Last of the Monikins» is on tonight and tomorrow at To Baraki tou Vassili (3 Didotou, Kolonaki, tel 210.362.3625) at 10 p.m.