Long-banned play lays bare the void of lust

An aura of scandal has surrounded the Viennese playwright Arthur Schnitzler’s «Merry-Go-Round» since it was published – indeed, the 1897 play was banned for several decades after being branded as indecent and provocative. This had very much to do with the fact that the drama revealed and satirized the hypocrisy that often went hand-in-hand with lovemaking, and even more so with the sexual act being blatantly evident on stage: All 10 scenes of the play (each showing a different couple) examine the before and after of copulation. This play was first staged in Greece 20 years ago by Karolos Koun at his Theatro Technis (Art Theater) and now it is back at the same stage – until February 20 – in a production by Lydia Fotopoulou and Lazaros Georgakopoulos. What makes this production different is that the two directors/actors will play all the roles, in a version of the play that rather intensifies the Freudian-before-Freud touches in the play. «I saw the Koun production in 1985,» Georgakopoulos recalled. «I had just graduated from the Art Theater Drama School and ever since I have been sort of obsessed with playing in it, especially having just two people playing in it. What I like most about this play is that it shows the emptiness, the desperation that often results from the act of lovemaking when it is done in the manner shown in the play, with hypocrisy. Faith in erotic love hits rock-bottom in this play and this is another reason we wanted to stage it, to counterbalance the other play our company (Theatro Ennea kai Kati) staged, ‘Gertrude Stein and Her Companion,’ in which there is absolute faith.» The rationale behind having two actors play all 10 couples, Georgakopoulos explained, is that «it is very tempting for an actor to play so many different roles and switch characters in the blink of an eye. But we also wanted the void left by one scene in the character to be carried over into the next.» How do they succeed in switching roles so quickly? «We have used just a few external factors to mark the change, but mostly it is an internal process,» Fotopoulou said. «From one moment to the next, the entire character you are playing changes, even the age changes, for example, so you change the manner of speech, the mannerisms. The way a 19-year-old behaves is quite different from someone who is almost 50. This is the kind of change we want to show, but we also don’t want to pretend that we can suddenly, just like that, be someone else. We also make alterations to certain things such as costumes, and this is where Dora Lelouda (the production’s costume designer) was really ingenious. Nevertheless, the change is apparent just in the shift in the characters’ energy. In the end, though, what is most important in the play is not what changes, but what doesn’t between the couples: the lust that lies behind so-called love.» The difficulty of the production they had in mind, as well as the long hours of rehearsals they knew it would entail, was what prompted the two actors to take on the direction. «We felt our way gradually through the play to find its final form,» said Fotopoulou, «and it was at this point that our colleagues had a pivotal role, with the choreography (by Amalia Bennett), the music (Dimitris Hasiouras) and the lighting (Giorgos Tarkasis).» One last question begs to be asked: Can a play that was scandalous in the late 19th century still shock today? Hasn’t it lost its edge? Relevance today «The scandal of class differences – because the play addresses the question of rich and poor – does not work as well today even though we still have the poor-rich divide,» observed Fotopoulou. «But,» she added, «the play has an impact today because there will always be some element of hypocrisy in love. We continue to fake certain feelings in order to get a response from someone else, we even lie to ourselves. Rather than face being alone, you create a kind of dream of love, which, however, is nothing more than pure desire. At the end, this becomes obvious and all you’re left with is the void…» Theatro Technis, 14 Frynihou, Plaka, tel 210.322.2464.