Rediscovering the essence of ancient Greek drama

There’s one thing Peter Stein will not tolerate: the modernization of classical texts, the so-called non-conventional productions which, as he says, make audiences run away from theaters. «In Europe, the younger members of the public go to the theater and do not understand what it’s about because what they are looking at are silly commentaries on world theater’s masterpieces,» says Stein. The 68-year-old German director uses a number of terms to describe the so-called modernists, while he himself remains one of the leading European directors through landmark productions. Invited by the Attica Cultural Society, Stein will present Euripides’ «Medea» at the Ancient Theater of Epidaurus on August 26 and 27. The play will star his wife, Maddalena Crippa. Stein spoke to Kathimerini ahead of the performances. How involved did you get in the play’s translation? I assigned the translation to an Italian specialist, Dario Del Corno. Since I speak ancient Greek I checked the outcome and suggested a few corrections and readjustments. You claim that every time we deal with ancient tragedy we should try to discover something new. What did you discover in «Medea» this time around? We discover new things through contemporary knowledge. These works belong to another civilization. They are like statues emerging from the sea, buried under the surface with pieces missing. They need our attention. It’s not easy to read ancient Greek tragedy. You need help. The problem is that it’s so far away from us, it has nothing to do with our way of thinking, our way of living. You have to translate the play in such a way that you always come up with something new. This novelty has nothing to do with a new, contemporary interpretation, however. That’s not my job. My job is to make people understand the meaning of each play. Modern interpretations never fully cover the play’s content. I try to render the maximum of the content through direction. Besides, each attempt to modernize will have to deal with the end of the play, where the heroine is transformed into a kind of goddess. I tried to incorporate the finale into the play’s overall spirit, in order for it to be understood and accepted by a contemporary audience. So how are you going to portray the end? The problem is that there have been so many versions of «Medea» in the last 30 years, especially in Germany, all very limited in their direction and interpretation. I found these productions very poor. They demoted Medea to a mother who killed her children. But this happens nearly every day. There is something very strange in Euripides’ play. Medea is not exactly human. She tries, yet she belongs to a kind of species which preceded man. She’s the granddaughter of the Sun. What could this mean? In the end she has the power to ask her grandfather to take her far away. These are strange things, hard to grasp. I tried to make this clear through the use of technology, by using huge lights (230 kilowatt) which will blind the audience so they can’t see what’s going on with Medea. At the end of the play Euripides introduces a completely foreign element and in a way my own direction begins from the end. In your opinion is Medea a victim or a victimizer? She’s beyond this kind of definition. She tries to look like a human being living in the civilized world: making love, bearing children, becoming a good mother. When she’s hurt by Jason, however, everything falls apart. On the human level she’s a victim. But when forced to accept human law she turns into a killing machine. Medea’s story tells us that we cannot strike agreements with very old, archaic powers. It is very dangerous and we should have no illusions. The interview was translated from the Greek text.