French take on a Euripides play

Euripides, historical sources say, was a reclusive man who preferred the company of his books to that of people. His anti-social personality was perhaps tied to the fact that, in many ways, Euripides was a poet ahead of his time. He criticized the accepted morals and was the first dramatist to introduce the anti-heroic character on the stage. He also focused on personal issues and the human psyche rather than on questions of the state. His free thinking provoked the menace of critics and landed him on trial for impiety. In many ways, Euripides was the forerunner of the modern dramatist. This is probably what partially inspired a French director to come up with an unusual adaptation of «Hypsipyle» – a Euripides play that today survives only in fragments – and to transform the character of Euripides into an artist slighted by the critics of his time and the main protagonist of the play. This highly original, contemporary version of the play, which will be performed tomorrow at the Kollatos estate on Aegina, was conceived by Hubert Godon, who directed and also stars in the play. Godon, who has worked on the project for two-and-a-half years, wanted the play to debut in Greece before staging it in Paris later in the year. The one-night performance is a symbolic gesture to honor the country that bore Attic tragedy. Considering that entrance is free of charge and that the performance scheduled for Greece is entirely subsidized by the actors themselves, it is also a touching initiative that has grown out of a distinctive vision for the play. In Godon’s version of the play, what unfolds is not just the story of Hypsipyle but the actual process of staging a play and rebuilding a work of art from its remaining fragments. According to the play’s particular adaptation, Euripides destroys the manuscript of his play after growing disillusioned with the attack of critics. (Actually, «Hypsipyle» survives in fragments because either Euripides never completed it or because part of it was lost over the years.) The four actors (Dominique Journet, Sabrina Giampetrone, Stephane Godefroy and Hubert Godon, who are members of the French troupes La Compagnie du non dit and Baltreng) approach the playwright (played by Alexandros Kollatos) on stage and ask for his help in redirecting the play for contemporary times. The play unravels with Euripides in the role of an actual director and the actors as the contemporary protagonists in a play. They work together in reconstituting the lost play and bringing it to the stage. Set both in the past and the present, Godon’s «Hypsipyle» is the «play within a play,» a play about the process of staging a performance and about twisting conventional dramatist roles. It gives the viewer an insider’s point of view, turns actors partly into directors and establishes the playwright in the role of the director, as it would have been in antiquity. The play is performed in both French and Greek; the bilingualism is another original aspect of this contemporary adaptation. Both the Greek and French public may miss out on what is being said but that does not really matter. The structure of the play and the idea of the play as a rehearsal is what counts. Yet the play still works on various levels. It sheds light on the life of Euripides, links the past with the present, considers the perennial relationship between actors and directors and also draws attention to one of Euripides’ lesser-known works. Hypsipyle was the daughter of Thoas, king of the island of Lemnos. When the women of Lemnos threw a statue of Aphrodite into the sea, the goddess sought revenge by making them repulsive to their husbands. Enraged by this turn of events, the Lemnian women killed all the male inhabitants and Hypsipyle, who helped King Thoas escape, became the ruler. When the heroes of the Argonaut expedition arrived on the island, Jason married Hypsipyle, and she bore two sons, Euneus and Deiphiluss. But later Hypsipyle was captured by pirates and sold as a slave to Lycurgus of Nemea and became nurse to his son Opheltes. When arriving in Nemea (home to the myth of the Seven against Thebes), she made a mistake that caused the death of Opheltes. Lycurgus ordered Hypsipyle’s death: She was to be offered as a sacrifice to Zeus by the winner of one of the races in the honor of the dead Opheltes. The winners of the race were Hypsipyle’s two sons, who rescued her and carried her back to Lemnos. The play was performed at the ancient Theater of Dionysus in 408 BC and was copied onto papyrus in AD 200. This was discovered in fragments in 1906. The play has been staged by various troupes but has been given an original twist in this production. Godon and his collaborators from La Compagine du non dit and Baltreng together with Alexandros Kollatos have filled in the missing fragments of the play in an imaginative way. Their approach tackles issues of dramaturgy and artistic creation but with an unusual sensitivity toward antiquity and a respect for the past. At the Kollatos estate on Aegina, on Saturday. The performance begins at 9.30 p.m. Entrance is free. Future festival The staging of «Hypsipyle» at the Kollatos estate is the beginning of what Greek-born, Paris-based actor and film director Alexandros Kollatos (he plays Euripides in «Hypsipyle») hopes will become an annual 10-day festival on Greek dramaturgy. Together with his father, the well-known director Dimitris Kollatos, they would like to make Aegina a meeting place for the film and theater population in Greece. Plans include collaborations with French and international artists. There are also plans for screenings of films by Greek film directors. If plans come to fruition, the event may offer support and exposure to Greek artists.