Seduction, power games and identity swaps in ‘Kapnokrator’

Cigarettes are both plot device and emblem of desire in Andreas Staikos’s new play «Kapnokrator,» which premiered April 1 at the Embros Theater in Psyrri. Linking the four protagonists in a drama of seduction, power games and shifting identities, cigarettes are used for barter, manipulation, and summoning up the past. Iphigenia, played by Lemonia Yiannaridou, is a femme fatale given to self-dramatization, languid poses and scrounging cigarettes. Her message of asking her old friend Lela to bring cigarettes goes astray, netting instead the cousins Persephone (Fotini Timotheou) and Georgia (Marina Polymeri). Realizing they can only win their hostess’s favor by offering her cigarettes, and hoping to improve their own poverty-stricken lot, the cousins assume and relinquish Lela’s identity at Iphigenia’s command – Georgia more readily, producing a couple of cigarettes on demand, Persephone less so. When the real Lela (played by Chryssa Zafeiriadou) arrives unexpectedly, wearing a cat mask, the revelations begin but the mystery never fully unravels. The friends share a shady past where they also shared a shifty lover. Was he a military hero or a deserter and smuggler of contraband cigarettes? Did he assault Lela when she was a child? We never know for sure. Staikos revisits images and themes he has used successfully in the past – high heels, lipstick, food, letters read onstage, and language games, where he plays the old purist form of Greek off against the vernacular to comic effect. Yet for all the flourishes and the spirited efforts of a competent cast, the play never quite takes off. It lacks the exuberant froth – that contemporary Greek spin on 18th century French comedy – which Staikos deployed to such effect in «Liaisons Culinaires.» And darker issues, though raised, are not pursued. In fact, there’s not much behind the smokescreen. Embros Theater, 2 Riga Palamidi, Aghion Argyron Square, Psyrri, tel. 210.323.8990

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