Rediscovering the joy of acting
A surprising collaboration that bodes well for the course of Greek theater this summer and hints at even better things to come in the future, is that between director Vassilis Papavassiliou and actor Yiannis Bezos in Moliere’s «The Would-Be Gentleman.» The play will be presented at the Herod Atticus Theater on August 2 within the context of the Athens Festival, but it will also be on tour around the country through the summer, starting in Thessaloniki on July 4. Papavassiliou and Bezos are both excited about this – their first, collaboration – especially as it concerns such rich material, such a great play. It gives them the opportunity to share their views on a social phenomenon that is very much in play in this day and age – the growing class of the nouveau riche – but also, as Papavassiliou points out, on something more profound: «the need by every one of us to transcend ourselves, to change our role within the more general comedy of society.» «I have wanted to do ‘The Would-Be Gentleman’ for some time now,» admits Bezos. «I had discussed the prospect with Dimitris Papadimitriou, who has written the score, because the play really was a musical in its time. It belongs to that genre of mixed prose, music and dance favored by Louis XIV and his court. I am very happy to finally be able to realize this dream because I love this form of popular theater.» Can Moliere be described as popular theater today? «Very much so. In fact, I recently read something about the influence of Moliere even upon the [traditional Greek] Karaghiozis shadow-puppet theater. ‘A Doctor in Spite of Himself’ is actually the basis of the classic shadow-puppet theater performance ‘The Charlatan.’ Moliere’s work is very popular indeed,» says Bezos. Taking a play of this type onto the open stage may seem like something of a risk, but Bezos is unfazed. «What is important is not whether it’s a closed or an open theater, but whether there is action on the stage. This is why I asked Vassilis [Papavassiliou] to do it. I think he is a great director, a great actor and a great man. He is also at a very good point in his career, judging from his most recent performances and from the rehearsals of this production.» Papavassiliou finds that Moliere is the perfect arena for his first collaboration with Bezos. «I worked on Moliere in my most recent production at the [National Theater’s] Experimental Stage, while also having recently worked on another great man of the theater: De Filippo, a writer, actor, director and theater director, like Moliere, who carried the desperate, necessary weight of being compelled to work for the theater. I think this combination of factors is a good omen for our collaboration. I have a great deal of respect for Yiannis and I am pleased to discover that an actor of such great popular appeal has the courage to stand on his own. This is a matter of great weight to me and I also think that it is the single most important trait for a comic actor.» Actor’s approach Papavassiliou takes an actor’s approach to the manner in which he is directing «The Would-Be Gentleman.» «I told the actors from the onset that I wanted to help them enjoy what they were doing on stage a little more. If we achieve this, it will be from the crux of the production’s directorial identity. Because, as they are striving on tour and under the stars, they will have to bring, unadulterated and pure, the energy of the traveling troupes of old, those elements that are always at the core of the success of Greek theater. This is what I wanted to share with Yiannis and the other actors.» The cast, other than Bezos, comprises Natalia Tsaliki, Pericles Moustakis, Eleni Kokkidou, Niki Palikaraki, Ilias Zervos, Giorgos Psychoyios, Chronis Pavlidis and Giorgos Glastras, among others. The choreography is by Haris Mandafounis and the sets and costumes by Marie-Noelle Semet, the Sorbonne professor credited with the wonderfully sparse costumes for De Filippo’s «If on a Winter’s Night,» directed by Papavassiliou this past winter. «The sets are functional and effective, while the costumes… I am sure the audience will love them,» says the director, noting that they are not period costumes, nor are they modern. «I wanted the play to have the feel of a carnival about to happen, to reflect a phantasmagorical approach to the play. As far as it being modernized, the essence of a play either makes its way to the audience through the actors or it doesn’t. From the moment that the actors do not embrace something, no amount of dreaming up schemes to modernize a play will work. What matters to us is for the actors to discover for themselves the tug of war that takes place within Moliere’s plays between different types and styles of theater – because there is no single ‘Moliere style,’» stresses Papavassiliou.