‘New Friends’ on and off a theater stage

THESSALONIKI – A Greek writer, a director from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), a compatriot composer of his, an Albanian actor, an actress from Belgrade currently studying film at Thessaloniki University, a Slovenian costume designer, a Greek-Italian stage designer and Greek actors make up the components of a new production for the National Theater of Northern Greece titled «New Friends.» The multicultural theatrical team is spearheaded by Alexander Popovski, a former director at FYROM’s state theater, who has reworked a new politically based text by Elena Pegga for the stage. The play, now being performed at Lazariston Monastery’s Little Theater in Thessaloniki, tells a dark contemporary story inspired by the recent wars of the former Yugoslavia. With this latest project, Popovski, whose track record includes numerous collaborations with European theaters and a feature film, «Good-Bye 20th Century,» offers his perception of the recent tragic events in the neighboring region. The play’s plot is based on Oggi, a young boy from FYROM who seeks a way out of his recent exile to Vienna. Like a modern-day Ulysses, Oggi is drawn to his place of origin and home. Upon his return journey, with newfound friends corrupted by the absurd conditions of war, Oggi wanders through the war-ravaged Balkans. «Like a collage of impressionistic images, the play is a non-realistic journey through an imaginary world and time where the lead actor shares images created through his information on the war,» Popovski told Kathimerini. Does the production represent the true state of things in the Balkans? I’m not so sure that Pegga [the playwright] wants to address the facts of the former Yugoslavia, and I’m not sure about the details of things that happened. The play does not depict the reality, but Western-minded information gathered by somebody living in the West. Which is why this performance offers a Western perception of things, and not necessarily the real conditions. How easy is it for an individual from the Balkans to adopt the West’s position? I didn’t want to make it personal because it’s not easy to discuss Balkan matters, especially through theater. Moreover, the region is still volatile – things haven’t ended yet. All these years, I’ve tried to erase the information I’ve had in my mind about all that’s occurred. Now, I’ve attempted to put myself in the position of somebody from the West through his or her understanding of things, not my personal opinion on the Balkans. The play is based on historical facts and war’s consequences on the human soul and fantasy. But you give the impression that you’re trying to avoid it all… During the 90s, I possibly could have addressed what happened through theater. But, 15 years later, I have nothing to say. I’ve grown tired of it. This is not war based on justice, nor does it have anything to do with politics and religion. Everything was inspired by profit. In other words, I believe that we lost 15 years of our lives over nothing. What’s the common thread that connects the «new friends»? Oggi and water. As is the case with animals seeking water in a savanna, war is the connecting link during war. A junction of water pipes is where the play’s various characters meet. Lina [Lambraki] represents the mother of the world. So what is the message being sent out by this production? There is no message because it’s a work of contemporary drama whose overall nature is one of detachment. I don’t really prefer it to classic works, which I’ve done in recent years. I believe that we can only find answers for the world today through classic works. Contemporary drama is good but provides few answers to things. But we’re living in an age where big answers are needed. Lazariston Monastery’s Little Theater, 3 A. Kamara & 139 Tsimiski, tel 2310.232799.

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