Modern take on ‘Suppliants’

When the Greek theater company Theseum Ensemble and Holland’s Veenfabriek teamed up to present the Euripides’ «Suppliants» last April in the Netherlands, the NCR daily described it as a pop concert with all the lightheartedness of improvisation. After the production’s world premiere this spring, it is now due to come to Greece, to the Ancient Theater of Epidaurus on July 7 and 8. The Greek director of the joint production, Michail Marmarinos, promises that «there’s nothing like it.» This rarely performed play is a hymn to humanity and democracy, but, according to Marmarinos and his Dutch counterpart Paul Koek, this production is also a «musical show about and drawn from modern history.» It invites the public to face the consequences of a possible war as it expresses itself as a battle for power and political interests to the sound of pop, rock and even Monteverdi. The music plays a key role in the production, which explains the huge drums, electric guitars and other instruments which will be performed by Greek and Dutch actors/musicians. Another striking feature of this bilingual production is that it uses two new translations: the first from Ancient Greek to Dutch (by Herman Altena) and the other from Dutch to Greek (by Joanna Dullaart). The main themes of the play, such as the ruin of war, loss and pain, are the same, whether the war is in ancient Thebes, modern-day Afghanistan or the Balkans. «I cannot see any other way to read the ancient play, other from the viewpoint of the present,» said Marmarinos. «The Suppliants» is not an atypical play for Euripides and a reading of the modern translation reveals just how contemporary it is in language and in the debate it puts forth regarding democracy. «Another reason to become involved, from the Dutch point of view, was the recent blot on the country’s history regarding the involvement of Dutch troops in the Srebrenica massacre in the former Yugoslavia,» said Marmarinos. «The government fell over this matter.» «The Suppliants,» noted Altena, «is about the harsh realities of war and the pain caused by it. At the same time, however, it has another, deeply political level that invites us to reconsider our own political climate, as much in Greece as in Holland.» The translator also notes that, among other issues, the play also addresses political unity and the battle for supremacy among political systems. «It contains a wealth of material to help examine different political interests and the current peacekeeping efforts and actions of the United Nations.» A series of interviews built around a questionnaire that was filled out by well-known figures such as Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis, opposition PASOK leader George Papandreou and Michalis Papayiannakis, a former European MP for Synaspismos Left Coalition, as well as other less-known Greek citizens, adds a different texture to the Greek-Dutch production. Questions on the church, its function, the Eleusinian Mysteries, what the word suppliant brings to mind, political fugitives, the most attractive characteristics of a democracy, and others, received a plethora of different answers in both countries. These interviews have been put together to form the program of the performance and will also be on sale at the theater, while the research may form the basis of a future project. In this production, however, the play and the findings of the research have come together to form the structure of the play. The Dutch director and musician Koek stresses the importance of the music in the production: «By working with a new generation of musicians, actors and dramatists, and by using a modern variety of genres, such as pop, electronica and strictly structured academic music, we have achieved to touch upon the extreme emotion of ‘absolute pain.’» Marmarinos is quick to note that the production does not take any sides, neither is it a tragic reconstruction of war such as those that usually compose productions of this play. «Here, the language of music is the vehicle for the reconstruction,» he said. «I like the way the Dutch see it; that ancient drama is a type of theater that is clearly musical.» Information and tickets are available from the Hellenic Festival box office (39 Panepistimiou, tel 210.327.2000). The production will have Greek surtitles.

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