Family torn by greed, money

An elderly auntie manages to turn an early 20th century household upside down when she turns up holding a box containing money. Carl Sternheim’s «The Strongbox» opened at the National Theater’s Kappa Theater last week. Sternheim (1878-1942), a classic German playwright with a personal flair, has hardly had any of his work staged in Greece, although the first play by him that was locally produced, «The Underpants,» directed by Yiannis Houvardas at the Amore Theater, was successful. «I like describing ‘The Strongbox’ with the rather paradoxical term ‘German comedy,’» said director Victor Ardittis. «It is a very German play. It is strict with a rather geometric structure and very sharp in its social criticism, yet at the same time it is a very wild comedy, an almost black boulevard. People don’t write plays like that anymore, with such a tight structure, with pace, with a complete description of characters and a minimalist yet also amazingly written dialogue. Maybe only Tom Stoppard can write plays with that mentality.» About 100 years ago, Sternheim wrote a series of plays, which include «The Underpants» and «The Strongbox,» that commented on the life of the petits bourgeois. «The plays made fun of the kind of people who always know how to survive with flexibility and make themselves happy. That is what makes ‘The Strongbox’ an extremely contemporary play.» The box that the old lady, played by Ersi Malikentzou, brings to the house contains bonds that have been illegally acquired. The box destroys the home of teacher Heinrich Krull (Taxiarchis Hanos). His second wife is the old lady’s niece (Evi Saoulidou) who is not much older than his daughter from his first marriage (Syrmo Keke). A young man keeps frequenting the house – he first has an affair with the maid (Emily Koliandri), then with the daughter, whom he marries, but then also with his mother-in-law. Even Krull himself will be unfaithful to his young wife due to the box because that is the weapon that the aunt uses to control him. «This play is about greed and money,» said Ardittis. «It is also the most extreme form of capitalism, the immaterial money of bonds and stocks which pulls you into a maelstrom and swallows you up.» Yet Ardittis said that the play has a sense of morality that seems foreign today. «That is why the production has an old and detached feeling, especially in the costumes (by Lili Kentaka), because the set is very minimalist; it is just six doors that open and close constantly. We tried to picture the stage as a big music box. Composer Costas Vomvolos’s contribution was great, because he made a creative environment with sounds of a home that are supposedly heard behind the doors, from love sighs that turn into waltz melodies to coughs that are like military marches. I had not done that kind of theater before. The work we do with the actors is very interesting with their aspects of exaggeration and how monstrous these characters really are or aren’t.»