Ancient drama goes back to the 1950s

The National Theater’s production of Aristophanes’ «Thesmophoriazusae,» now on tour, reminds one of those old Greek comedy films that were shunned 20 years ago, yet, over time, have acquired credibility and respect. We’re talking about the 50s film era when cliques of actors dominated the big screen and mambo-esque bouzouki hits from master instrumentalist Manolis Hiotis ruled the music scores. The comic element certainly kicks in early in «Thesmophoriazusae,» directed by Sotiris Hadzakis, who has transferred the play into the 50s for specific reasons. One is drama-related, with a touch of political spice, too. Aristophanes’ work, a satirical play on the poetic, literary and religious ethos of the period of the Peloponnesian War, echoes conditions of Greece in the 1950s. This was a time when the aftermath of civil war, the ensuing economic crisis, decadence, political turmoil and overall chaos dominated Greek life. Up against «Thesmophoriazusae,» it all fits. In ancient times, Alcibiades offered Athens financial support from Persia in exchange for a switch to an oligarchical political system. In the 50s, there was the Marshall Plan, which came with the adaption to American ways. The play is entirely based on popular improvisational theater, while emblematic elements characterizing the 50s also have their place in the production. Commenting on his inclusion of 50s memorabilia into his take on the ancient play, Hadzakis said he borrowed period elements while avoiding the risks that come with a retro approach and overblown tastelessness. «The acting is based on interpretations of those actors from old commercial Greek films – Papayiannopoulos, Avlonitis, Iliopoulos, Stavridis, Gionakis… We’ve taken care that the production pay homage to these figures,» said Hadzakis. The director also admitted that this production’s dip into 50s Greek film stands as an act of personal reconciliation with that era’s filmmaking, which, as a result of political conditions, was neglected by many, including himself. Hadzakis explained that he began watching period films starring Greek comedians such as Thanassis Vengos and Fragiskos Manellis – to whom «Thesmophoriazusae» is dedicated – due to the acting alone. «In the post-dictatorship period (1974 onward) and its leftist direction, which also made an impact on the [country’s] cultural domain, all this was considered kind of petite bourgeoisie, which deprived us of a whole series of songwriters and actors who could have accomplished great things in various domains,» said Hadzakis. Offering his opinion about the present standards of Greek theater, Hadzakis said he was generally content. «We’re in a good place and seeing successful productions involving newcomers,» the director said. The Ancient Theater of Epidaurus, where Hadzakis’s «Thesmophoriazusae» premiered on July 21, has been the subject of recent heated discussion between the purists and their adversaries over the type of drama the ancient venue should host – and not host. «Epidaurus is not a theater that caters to specialized interests,» remarked Hadzakis, «but an open theater that serves a wide range of theatergoers.»

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