Political drama comes alive at the Theatro Technis basement theater

Five years ago, on October 23, 2002, 42 Chechen militants of the separatist movement stormed the Dubrovka Theater in Moscow, during the first act of the musical «Nord-Ost.» The audience of 850 was held hostage for 57 hours, as the Russian government negotiated with the militants before deciding to intervene: After the two-and-a-half day siege, Russian special forces pumped an unknown gas into the building, killing over 150 civilians and allowing Russian forces to execute the Chechen hostage takers. The case remains open, and the face of Russian journalist and human rights activist Anna Politkovskaya, shot dead in October last year and an eye witness to the events that took place at the Moscow theater, continues to haunt Russian President Vladimir Putin. In the spring of 2006, the play «Nord-Ost» (which borrows its title from the Russian musical) by German actor and playwright Torsten Buchsteiner made its debut in Stockholm. Zura, a Chechen «black widow,» Tamara, a Latvian doctor, and Olga, a Russian accountant, are the three heroines of the play, eyewitnesses of the siege who describe the nightmare each in their own words. Now, «Nord-Ost» has also premiered in Athens, at the Theatro Technis basement theater on October 18. The play has been translated into Greek by Giorgos Depastas and directed by Nikos Hatzopoulos. The music is by Thodoris Ambazis and the sets and costumes are by Mayou Trikerioti. Mania Papadimitriou, Alexandra Sakellaropoulou and Sofia Seirli play Zura, Tamara and Olga, respectively. Buchsteiner’s political drama does not leave anyone cold. It moves, angers and provokes silence and thought. Just a few days before the Athens premiere, Kathimerini asked the actresses to comment on their characters. «Olga is an unsuspecting citizen who just happened to be at the theater with her husband and young daughter that Wednesday, October 23, 2002,» says Seirli. «They were enjoying themselves as they watched the first-ever Russian musical. They had been saving up for several months to be able to afford the tickets. When the militants flooded the stage, they thought it was all part of the show. What a great trick! But, it was just the beginning of the nightmare. They became the hostages of 42 Chechens, among them 22 suicide bombers known as black widows. There were two enormous bombs and explosives placed throughout the building. This woman survived 57 hours of the hostage crisis, a journey of awakening and understanding. From the safety of her home, she found herself at the hospital, leaving behind her daughter and husband, who did not come out alive – two of the many victims of the gas. Olga knew about the reality of war from television. She felt terror, humiliation (they were not even allowed to use the bathroom), fear for her child (children were separated from their parents) and the fear of death (she was shot accidentally). She realized that the threat to one’s life is always there, nearby.» Papadimitriou, playing Zura, sums things us differently: «Muslim is bad, Christian is good. This is the bipolarity created by Western fundamentalism. How can one escape this vicious cycle of oblivion and violence? Who among us truly find their way out of the cycle, the way it is drawn by the powers that be? And who truly challenges their own source of power when so many acts of violence have been committed by both sides? Only in the theater can you dream up such interchanges. The object of the theater is to leave us with a glimmer of hope that one day we will wake up. The young Muslim woman proposes, perhaps unknown to herself, the only way that one can possibly be truly political in this day and age.» «Tamara,» says Sakellaropoulou, «is the first to enter the theater and tend to the hostages. Her daughter and mother are among those seized. At the end of the crisis, she helped drag out some 700 unconscious hostages down the theater stairs into the streets, into the sleet. Almost none have a pulse; they all appear to be dead. For 45 minutes they had been inhaling an unknown toxic gas, pumped into the building by Putin’s commandos. She is alone, with just another five doctors to help. She has to do her duty, while also looking for her family. Incapable of practicing what she knows best, she watches people die without being able to help them. She experiences the betrayal and incompetence of a state mechanism toward its citizens. Do we live in a world that nurtures and needs terrorism? That needs war to exist at our back door?»