British plays in the Athenian limelight

Fans of Harold Pinter are spoiled for choice, with at least three different productions of his work currently playing in Athens. The Theatro Diadromi group is performing Pinter’s first major success, «The Caretaker,» at the Katerina Vassilakou Theater in Kerameikos; the Katia Dandoulaki Theater has a production of «Betrayal» from mid-way through the playwright’s career; while Fasma is staging his most recent work, «Celebration,» at the Aplo Theater. Classic Pinter The most striking performance – and play – of the three is Theatro Diadromi’s production of «The Caretaker.» One of the writer’s most influential works, «The Caretaker» retains its power, if not its shock value. This production does not extract the maximum impact from the famous opening scene. Mick faces the rear of the stage, rather than confronting the audience with a protracted, expressionless stare in what can be a very uncomfortable moment. But all else works wonderfully. The set is perfect – a messy, unfinished sort of place, providing the most basic of bachelor comforts, but light years away from the heroes’ home improvement dreams. Giorgos Michalakopoulos revels in his role as the caretaker, a chancer who craftily manipulates his host but is too feckless to make anything of his own life. Yiannis Thomas convincingly portrays Mick’s mercurial mood swings. Mimis Chrysomallis is Aston incarnate, his subdued delivery of the monologue quietly building to an emotional crescendo that reveals this withdrawn character’s tragic past. ‘Betrayal’ Stamatis Fasoulis directs «Betrayal,» a work from Pinter’s middle period and one of his least avant-garde works. When the play was first produced in 1978, some critics accused Pinter of letting down the side, so to speak, by employing the kind of style and subject matter that his own early work had so thoroughly subverted. The only unusual element in it is the reverse time scheme, ostentatiously signaled on large screens behind the actors. But the subject matter – a love triangle, adultery and male friendship, all the stuff of a thousand plays – obviously appeals to the middle-of-the-road audiences that flock to see it. The layers of betrayal and deceit peel back intriguingly but this play mounts no challenge to received ideas or dramatic conventions. Dandoulaki as Emma and Constantinos Constantinopoulos as Robert are competent; Stavros Zalmas is rather stiff as Jerry, while Lambros Sioutis is obtrusively busy as the waiter. ‘Celebration’ Antonis Antypas directs the Fasma troupe in an oddly unsatisfying production of «Celebration» at Aplo Theatro. Uniformly competent though the cast is, the performance somehow fails to engage the audience. This is partly because the peculiarly English flavor of the original never crosses the footlights, despite an excellent translation by Pavlos Matesis. What can be hilarious scenes – as when Russell praises the restaurant because his avowed psychopathic tendencies never seem to emerge while he is there, or when the almost inarticulate Suki blurts out uncomfortable truths -fail to raise a single laugh. Almost none of the characters is remotely likable, though that need not be an obstacle to appreciation. What never becomes apparent is whether the crass, self-absorbed characters represent anything beyond themselves and whether the play has something larger to say. Only the waiter, listing his grandfather’s supposed acquaintance with half the leading artists and writers of the 20th century, is evidence of life outside this smug coterie. Certainly the fact that this extremely short work, around 40 minutes long, was not performed back-to-back with another play, as Pinter’s works often are, left many in the audience feeling short-changed. ‘Endgame,’ ‘4.48 Psychosis’ Pinter is not the only non-Greek playwright in favor with Athenian audiences. Vangelis Theodoropoulos directed Nea Skini Technis in Samuel Beckett’s «Endgame» at Neos Cosmos Theater recently, in a production that did justice to Beckett’s exploration of the games people play even in the starkest environments and the humor he extracts from the most unpromising situations. Beckett’s impact on post-war European theater still reverberates. His stark settings, dark humor and flouting of theatrical conventions have engendered many heirs but few rivals. The late British dramatist Sarah Kane acknowledges Beckett’s and Pinter’s influence. Her own work inspired two excellent productions in Athens this past year. After Nea Skini’s electrifying production of «Cleansed» at Theatro Roes, Roula Pateraki offered a keenly observed performance of «4.48 Psychosis» at the Hora Theater. In this monologue tracing the compelling inner journey of a woman who is contemplating suicide, Pateraki penetrated the darkest spaces of her character’s mind as she argues her way out of life and into death. Some critics accuse Kane of self-indulgence, yet her plays venture beyond the personal and individual to the universal issues of life, death and the elusive but potentially succoring force of love. Their popularity in Greece attests to their appeal and to some exceptional performances of her work. ‘The Caretaker,’ Katerina Vassilakou Theater, 3 Profitou Daniil, Kerameikos, tel 010.346.7735; ‘Betrayal,’ Katia Dandoulaki Theater, 61a Aghiou Meletiou & Patission, tel 010.864.0414; ‘Celebration,’ Aplo Theater, Harilaou Trikoupi, Kallithea, tel 010.924.6991

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