Cretan Renaissance play on stage

Apart from ancient drama performances, theater has been rather poor this summer. Yet one of the shows that stands out is the Regional Municipal Theater of Crete’s production of Georgios Hortatsis’s «Erofili,» which will be staged at the Herod Atticus Theater tomorrow. The production has been touring Greece since July and will continue to be staged at theaters around Athens after tomorrow’s performance. Its success is understandable, since it is not very often that landmark works of the Cretan Renaissance, as is the case with «Erofili,» are performed on stage. «Erofili» was written shortly after 1595 and has its roots in an Italian work, as was the case with many other plays at the time. «Erofili» was based on Giambattista Giraldi’s «Orbecche,» but according to researcher and critic Stylianos Alexiou, Hortatsis did not simply reproduce the Italian text, but made a daring and successful recreation, with many changes. «He did creative reworking and, according to researchers, ‘Erofili’ is more poetic than the original,» said director Vassilis Nikolaidis, who also adapted the text for the needs of the stage. «The extent of the text – which is more than 3,000 verses – had to be reduced,» he said. «The truth is that there are many repetitions and ramblings, so it was easy to cut the text down without making it dry.» When asked about the language of the text, which is an old Cretan dialect incomprehensible to most Cretans today, Nikolaidis replied that it was necessary to make some changes. «I replaced them, where necessary, with other words, without altering their meaning and style… I kept the style of the Cretan language in such a way that spectators can still connect to the work.» The interludes, which are irrelevant to the plot, have been taken out, but the director added an act, following an idea of Notis Pergialis who had adapted «Erofili» back in 1966. «I made Charon, who opens the play and foretells the death of King Philogonus, Erofili’s father, call on the ghost of the previous King, Philogonus’s brother, whom Philogonus killed to seize the throne,» Nikolaidis said. «Charon and the Ghost both call on dark powers to lead Philogonus to actions that will result in his death: He will see his daughter Erofili make love to Panaretus and, enraged, he will kill the young man. He will then send some of his body parts to Erofili leading her to suicide and causing the women of the palace to revolt. The women will eventually butcher him.» For Nikolaidis, «Erofili» is not just a tragic love story, but it is also about merciless power games. «It is a political play, since the king’s motive is to safeguard his power. The love affair between Erofili and Panaretus is a betrayal, because it cancels his plans to form alliances through his daughter’s wedding with a powerful king.» The mise-en-scene is as simple as can be. «The performance is very clean, regarding both the stage settings and the acting; there are no tricks,» Nikolaidis said. The costumes do not refer to any particular period, while the sets «reflect the feeling of a decaying place,» he said. Both are designed by Nikos Saridakis. The songs embellishing certain acts of the play were composed by Cretan bard Loudovikos ton Anogeion and were worked on for polyphonic singing by Christiana Platania. The choreography is by Ersi Pitta and the lights by Pantelis Petrakis. «We had a very straightforward approach to the play, meaning that the actors bring themselves to the stage. I wanted honesty,» Nikolaidis said. He said he was very happy with the actors – the experienced Giorgos Partsalakis (King), young Memos Begnis (Panaretos) and the remaining cast (Rika Sifaki, Yiannis Kranas, Giorgos Krontiris, Manolis Sormainis, Nikos Skoulas, Danae Tzima and others) – but lay emphasis on Anna Koutsaftiki, who plays Erofili: «She has matured and is one of the best young actresses in Greece today. She performs beautifully in a very difficult scene, where Erofili mourns over her lover’s dismembered body.» The Herod Atticus Theater is situated at the Dionysiou Areopagitou promenade, off the Acropolis metro station. Tickets can be purchased at the Hellenic Festival box office, 39 Panepistimiou, tel 210.928.2900, and at the theater box office.