A debut at Epidaurus at age 69

“The time has finally come for me to perform in Epidaurus. It only took me 69 years, and, coincidentally, 50 years on stage. Epidaurus came into my life late, but I’m not sad or bitter. Theater has never been a job for me, nor have I treated it like one. It has always been about the art and the yearning.» These are mature, straightforward and down-to-earth words from a leading stage actress, Lida Protopsalti, who, speaking to Kathimerini, admits that she can’t wait to take on the role of the much-afflicted Hecuba at the Ancient Theater of Epidaurus on August 7 and 8. In her first appearance in this «magical theater,» as she calls it, the actress is participating in a summer production of «The Trojan Women» by the National Theater of Northern Greece. Euripides’ anti-war play is directed by Niketi Kontouri, with Protopsalti starring alongside Maria Nafpliotou and Lambrini Angelidou. Already familiar with Hecuba (the actress participated in Yiannis Dalianidis’s televised rendition of «To Trito Stefani» in 1995 and starred in a 1999 stage production of the Euripides’ play directed by Thanassis Papageorgiou), Protopsalti takes on the role of the heroine with great admiration for the meanings and timeless dilemmas that the ancient poet expresses. «You need to have a certain amount of experience in order to play this kind of role, especially at such an important theater as Epidaurus, where nowadays you get young actors playing straight from their mother’s womb. I’m in favor of simplifying things, however. I respect the great poets and the great playwrights and I feel that they should not be turned into caricatures. Niketi Kontouri is a serious director, and has made a great attempt at conveying the poet’s message. She is interested in the playwright. She is not being clever with Euripides, but rather allows him to be the clever one.» In the play, Protopsalti gives life to tragic Hecuba, a woman who has fallen victim to the viciousness of war, through the timeless words of the poet which awaken the consciousness of every era: «Here’s a queen who has lost everything – her home, her children, her country. She is a wreck. Despite it all, she tries to remain stoic, not to be ridiculed and boldly face her enemies, the Greeks. This is Euripides’ cry in view of the defeated and the heartless victors, the idea that gods lift the worthless and destroy the worthy. This is exactly what goes on in our daily lives and it’s something we will pay for dearly.» Having devoted herself to the theater for the last 50 years, Protopsalti continues to work in the same space and with the same people: «If you start looking around, you lose the essence. People have to come together with a similar point of view. It was not easy to reach this point. It was a constant struggle, paid for in blood, yet one which blossomed. Things are harder today, because you also have to face the distortion of art.» However the actress has also been the happy recipient of plenty of love from the public. «Viewers understand and take in what the artist is putting across. There is an audience that knows when actors are genuinely pleased with a handshake, when someone says, ‘Thank you for moving us.’ «That is what theater is all about. Endless give-and-take between the artist and the viewer throughout the performance, from the moment the stage lights go on until the moment they go off. No machine or video can put an end to this two-way relationship. That’s where the beauty of theater lies. This is why it is an art that is very much alive and will remain so throughout time.» Euripides’ «Trojan Women» will go on stage at the Ancient Theater of Epidaurus on August 7 and 8. The National Theater of Northern Greece production is directed by Niketi Kontouri. Tickets can be purchase at the Greek Festival box office (39 Panepistimiou, tel 210.327.2000, Epidaurus Ancient Theater, tel 27530.22026.