Ancient trilogy gets new spin

A novel production of Aeschylus’ «Oresteia,» currently on stage at the National Theater’s Experimental Stage, promises to breathe a refreshing breeze into the theater scene. In the words of the production’s director and creator Dimitris Lignadis, at the National Theater, the landmark trilogy «has more to do with showing, rather than interpreting.» However, even though the re-enaction sometimes replaces the text and acting, it’s not just about what we see, for this project turns out to be far more complex and multifaceted. Take, for instance, the dense yet honest director’s note, which talks about a production taking place in a closed space, yet open time-frame. Lignadis points to a very old play performed by a few young actors, interpreting what has never been acted before. He calls it an «experiment,» with a few new touches. Why was the director determined to stage «Oresteia» in such a confined and particular space as the Experimental Stage, in the first place? «The trilogy had been on my mind for a while, but I only thought of the Experimental Stage after I was asked to work with the National Theater again,» says the director. «My first reaction was to have all the roles interpreted by two actors and use three actors for the Chorus – just as in Aeschylus’ times – in an exercise of theater codes. This, however, was soon replaced by other, more challenging ideas.» What kind of ideas? «Take the space, for instance,» says the director. «The Experimental Stage is situated on the first level of the National Theater’s garage. There’s a stage and rows of seats but there’s also a courtyard as well as more underground areas, which are very interesting on a theatrical level…» In this way, Lignadis ended up breaking up the trilogy and has the audience roaming around, in and out of different spaces. Does this sound like yet another modernist approach? For the director it all makes sense and is based on the original, ancient idea. «’Oresteia’ is about the road from darkness to light, from mythology to history, from demons to contemporary Gods and from archetypal mythical symbols to modern man. Given the play, the movement of the different parts as well as the audience, it is a road which leads to contemporary Athens, a city defined by light, where civilized man no longer needs the Gods; instead, he now decides for himself through the process of voting,» notes Lignadis. «That’s how I approached the trilogy, like a road, a journey, an initiation. So why shouldn’t the production itself be some kind of journey, a theatrical journey? Not just in terms of theatrical space, but also in terms of theatrical methods.» The play opens at the garage entrance, with Oresteia’s Guard receiving news of the fall of Troy. The Chorus then leads the public onto the stage, where they watch the first part of the trilogy «Agamemnon,» with the action unfolding in the seating area. Defined by its ritualistic character, the second part of the trilogy, «The Libation-Bearers,» then takes place on stage and the audience find their seats. In the third part, «The Furies,» Lignadis introduces his audience to contemporary theater, «living theater,» as he refers to it, and takes the public to a rather sinister area, the garage’s second, underground level. Acting as co-perpetrator in this venture is the eminent set designer Dionyssis Fotopoulos, whose costume designs are a study in the abstract. Fotopoulos also created the actors’ masks, taking the opportunity to use this production as a platform for references tracing the history of theater masks. The cast is composed of Stathis Mantzoros, Dimitris Mylonas, Agoritsa Economou, Omiros Poulakis and Giorgos Stamos. The music was composed by Giorgos Christodoulou and Sakis Birbilis is in charge of lighting. The director used translations by K.H. Myris and Tassos Roussos, cutting and adding texts when deemed necessary for such a production. A group of 15 National Theater drama school students take part in the third installment of the trilogy. National Theater Experimental Stage, 22 Aghiou Constantinou,tel 210.522.23242.

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