‘Lysistrata’ and folk tradition

There is no play more directly connected to man’s desire for peace and love than Aristophanes’ comedy «Lysistrata,» where women declare sexual abstinence in order to force men to end the war and make peace. Produced by the National Theater, «Lysistrata» will be staged at the Epidaurus Ancient Theater tonight and tomorrow. The performance promises to be very stimulating, as the leading part is played by top tragedy actress Lydia Koniordou, while the stage direction is by Costas Tsianos, who has blended the rituals of Greek folk tradition into the comedy, as he has previously in his production of «Electra,» in which Koniordou also participated. The folk element is apparent in «Lysistrata» from the very beginning: The Chorus enters the theater in a good mood, singing a traditional wedding song, which could be taken for an ancient festive phallic song. Then war makes its appearance.. How did you choose to stage «Lysistrata?» I am certain that this play has its roots in phallic songs and is as much a folk play as «The Acharnians» and «Peace,» although many disagree on this. Either way, I can only produce a Greek performance, because the play is full of songs and rituals one can encounter even today in places like Tyrnavos and Ayassos. I am sure the words and banter exchanged between the men and women, all the antics and even the infamous scene between Cinesias and Myrina, all derive from a phallic ritual. I have seen these things acted out in villages during carnival season, although people there have little idea about Aristophanes or Attic comedy. Do you use tradition in parts of the show or throughout it? I use it in the entire play and it is the first time have, but this doesn’t mean that this is a folklore performance. We are inspired by tradition and we borrow ideas for the interpretation of the play. So that also affects the play’s music and language. Of course. I wanted us all to have the same approach to the play. Christos Leontis based his music on beats and meters we encounter in other Aristophanes choruses but also in tragedies. I danced in front of the composer and the choreographer, Fokas Evangelinos, so I could show them the parts of tradition I know well. And Rena Georgiadou’s costumes are also a mixture of ancient and traditional. How «contemporary» is your translation of the ancient text? There are no contemporary elements in the text this time. I think this is my most important translation, because I have a lot of experience now. I did not want any contemporary or «revue» elements. The play does not need them, the topic is too serious and Aristophanes lightens it up himself. It doesn’t need anything more. Is it that the play doesn’t need such additions or is it that we are by now fed up with the revue antics of directors and leading characters in ancient comedy? Well, maybe we have gone too far and we don’t want that any more. We are only talking about this play, which has rich and lively language. I dedicate the translation to the memory of Tassos Lignadis, whose study on «Lysistrata» helped me put together my random thoughts and experiences, but also to Alexis Solomos because, apart from his performances, I think his book «The Living Aristophanes» is the best international study of Attic comedy. How did the actors get on with the traditional elements? I had to introduce them to the spirit of a folk feast, which Lydia had experienced with me back when I used to take her to folk celebrations for our shows. Now I just brought them CDs and danced for them. We have very credible actors in both the leading parts and in the Chorus: Nikos Bousdoukos, Yiannis Degaitis, Periklis Karaconstantoglou, Themistoklis Panou, Christos Ninis, Alexandra Pantelaki, Nikoleta Vlavianou and many more experienced and good actors. Eleni Kastani is made for the part of Cleonice. Antonis Loudaros is a great Probulus and we have a fun couple of Cinesias and Myrina with Nikos Karathanos and Vasso Iatropoulou, then there is Maria Kadife and all the others. How is Lydia Koniordou as Lysistrata? She will be great. She was born to play that part, which is a comic, not a funny part. Lysistrata is a complex character: She is a very desirable and flirtatious woman, but she is also a thinking leader, exciting and with lots of humor. And Lydia is an actress with a lot of humor, because you can’t play tragedy without humor. Katina Paxinou was the same. She didn’t venture into playing Aristophanes, maybe they didn’t encourage her, but we saw her great comic aspect in contemporary plays. Lydia is the same, fresh but moving, strict but also sensitive, just like the play. Lydia Koniordou on her first experience with comedy How do you imagine your Lysistrata? Since the direction draws its inspiration and material from traditional phallic rituals, we all tried to be part of that and create earthy and accessible characters that are recognizable in daily life. I try to make Lysistrata a woman that everyone can identify, as a mother, a neighbor, an aunt or some other familiar face. She must be part of those anonymous voices that have shaped our folk tradition. So her personality must also be rather full. Yes, she is not a forlorn woman, she must be vigorous and lively. How are you liking your first experience in a leading comedy role? I am learning, because it is a new experience, but I am enjoying it, because I got to work with Costas again and I met up with previous colleagues from the Art Theater, like Degaitis, Bousdoukos and Karaconstantoglou. I look at how they work on comedy. I also met younger actors, like Loudaros, Kastani, Karathanos and Kadife, who have a comic nature. I am really enjoying the collaboration. I imagine you found the experience you gained from last year’s production of «Ion,» which bordered between tragedy and comedy, helpful. Very much so, because in the work I did on plays such as «Alcestis» and «Ion» I had started to experiment with the line between tragic and comic and that facilitated my passage into comedy, which is a very difficult genre. I believe that this way we can redefine tragic interpretation. Tragedy does not need to be just dark, but also to have light and shadow, and that is why I was so interested in working on comedy. How do you feel about taking this anti-war play to the United States? I think it is very important, because there are now many people who have openly expressed their opposition to the war in Iraq. I saw that myself, while I worked in New York’s Binghamton University during the winter. It was the first time I saw such open opposition to the war there.