CULTURE

Back with a new turn of phrase

After over 15 years of silence, Marios Pontikas is back with a new turn of phrase, «irrational, incomprehensible,» and with new imagery. One of the pioneers of the post-WWII «realist modern Greek theater,» with groundbreaking hits such as «O Lakos kai i Fava,» «Trombone,» «The Will» and others, Pontikas is presenting a new play, «Cassandra Addresses the Dead,» this time not at the Stoa Theater – where he has presented numerous plays in the past – but at Theodoros Terzopoulos’s Attis Theater. Just as Aegokeros Publications comes out with his complete works, the playwright, known for his incisive insights into the modern Greek psyche, now appears forward-looking, if not «blasphemous and sacrilegious,» as he himself says. What are your impressions of Greek theater in general? Is the quality equal to the quantity, given that there are 400 plays staged every year? In Greece we behave as if we have a profound understanding of what is happening on a global, political, social and theatrical level, so, it is only natural that we live in a fool’s paradise. We are set on what we know and don’t care to know anything else. The truth, however, is that the plays we stage – with very few exceptions – couldn’t stand up to comparison with work being done abroad. But, the overriding sense is one of self-satisfaction. This is why I respect the Athens Festival under Giorgos Loukos so much: Not because he brought the world’s masterpieces but because we have seen a little bit of what is being done outside of Greece. What about plays in general? It seems that we have seen a revival of interest this year. The Association of Greek Playwrights alone had 52 Greek plays by mid-season. Yes, we are seeing the need for Greek theater texts – I’d say texts, not plays. And the need is covered, as it is, mostly by young writers. A variety of different things. This material will gradually be put through a sieve to bring the most interesting things to the surface. For the time being, however, we haven’t got much of stature. Here too, we see a sense of apathy. How about your lengthy absence from the scene. Was it due to apathy or satiety? My silence came from the inside, with a need for reflection. It took me a long time to understand that the history of theater is about constantly shifting the boundaries of writing, of performance and even of stance. That timelessness and the realism of the non-real is important. I went back to Antonin Artaud, to what he calls situations beyond reason, near archetypal dimensions. I gradually espoused the idea. My style of writing was no longer enough for me. I mean, I could easily write a play in classical form and make it good too – dialogue, structure, lines, etc. But it had become unbearably tedious. The boredom is indescribable. Quest for a director Is that why you approached Theodoros Terzopoulos? For his very particular theatrical style? Terzopoulos’s and the Attis Theater’s methods have been the object of serious study for me for several years. Our collaboration, however, arose from the theatrical events he organized in Kiato a few years ago, for which I had written a text about Cassandra in Hades. You have previously expressed a similar sentiment for stage director Michael Marmarinos. Does your interest now lie in experimental forms of theater? I’m not one of those people who feel compelled to embrace the new come what may. This arises as a need rather than a choice. It is a process I have been going through during all these years. If I can find common ground with something new, all the better, but it is not something I set my sights on. How is Cassandra portrayed in your new play? I have always had a fascination for this figure. A girl who received the gift of prophecy from Apollo, but, because she would not give herself to him, was also cursed with being incomprehensible – to make prophecies that cannot be understood by man… This is a pivotal point in the play. What does she prophetize? That the Resurrection of Christ, which so many religions use to comfort, is – in reality – a threat to humanity, a threat of total disaster. Even hope in the Resurrection leads to chaos. Because the Resurrection is a ruse, a trick. It has been devised by the butchers of this world to feed the butchering machine. These are the kinds of things Cassandra says – in her irrational, incomprehensible way – but her warnings are in vain, because man will never awaken. A thorny topic. The entire play is blasphemous and sacrilegious to man. It mocks human existence and all the comforting theories that have dominated any given time, such as the Enlightenment. I don’t believe in man. I don’t believe in his achievement or in his mind.