A bilingual ‘Electra’ in Athens

The Spring Theater’s production of Sophocles’ «Electra,» at the Herod Atticus Theater this Thursday and Friday will be a bilingual one. The lead actress, Maia Morgenstern, and her colleague Bogdan Zolt (of Hungarian descent) will speak Romanian, while their colleagues, Christos Tsangas, Chrysanthi Douzi, Yiannis Dalianis and Marianthi Sondaki will speak Greek. The cast is led be Greek director Yiannis Margaritis. Eight years since her first experience with the Greek language – she collaborated with Theo Angelopoulos in the film «Ulysses’ Gaze» – Maia Morgenstern is expressive, womanly and mature with an amazing energy when talking passionately about Greece and its people, and how much she enjoys working here. Will she come back again? Probably, but this time it be will for a film. «I’m talking to Pandelis Voulgaris and something good might come out of it,» she says. As for her first love, Theo Angelopoulos, the two met on the street a few days ago, by chance, she stresses, not by accident. Staging a play by Sophocles is hard enough, let alone performing it in two languages. But Morgenstern does not agree. «For me it is a pleasure. And if there is any difficulty, it lies in our daily attempts to understand each other. As for me, I get enjoyment from all this. I speak Romanian, Orestes speaks Romanian and the rest of the cast uses Greek. The audience, however, will soon realize that this is not about language, but about each individual character on his own.» Margaritis, on the other hand, offers his own take: «For the director, working with two languages is an obvious difficulty. It is a great obstacle as far as the actors’ communication is concerned, and I had to invent new ways in order for the actors to communicate with each other. Yet it is precisely these difficulties which make this project so extremely interesting. We based the play on the idea that these powerful myths, such as the ones used by the ancient dramatists, can actually become pivotal to the production, as opposed to that role being taken over by the text. I thought about the kind of communication that can exist on stage, given the power of the myth, rather than understanding every word.» These types of experiments, on the other hand, that offer such a sense of originality, seem to be increasingly encouraged after the feeling of fatigue that characterized ancient drama productions in the last few years. Is this valid in this case? Margaritis does not deny an element of this: «For me there is no such thing as to renew or not to renew. Renewal becomes an issue when, essentially, there are no new elements brought in by the creators. Personally I’m not interested in renewal through the use of gimmicks, such as having Orestes appear on stage on a Harley or drinking whisky. I have no interest for these kinds of iconoclastic attempts of renewal. For me, ancient tragedy is philosophical theater, poetic theater. If we have something new to add, given these two dimensions, then we can do as we please.» Morgenstern’s thoughts are with the theater itself. «Whatever we do here, we do thinking of the Herod Atticus theater. «This performance is a great challenge for me, a very important moment. There is the text, to begin with, which offers a wealth of ideas, and such a human dimension, even when describing terrible atrocities. All these are elements which make me think. And I do feel that all of us living today increasingly feel this need to think a little bit more. «I believe that we limit our capacity to think to the bare minimum. We seldom use the opportunity to face reality in a more abstract way. This is due to the fact that we are all educated in the American way: Everything has to be concrete and quick. Everything has to be tangible. Yet, when you are on stage, and you are confronted with Sophocles’ text, all that poetry offers us the opportunity to think in another dimension; you are able to imagine but also to think about the consequences of your actions, but that is another issue.» Lifetime experience Born in Bucharest in 1962, Maia Morgenstern is of Jewish descent and seems ready to discuss the Middle East crisis, she has relatives in Israel, after all. Though she does have her own opinion on the issues, she looks exhausted by the effects of the Athenian sun and the discussion, once again, turns to «Electra» and the theater. «It is the experience of a lifetime,» she says, «but not for the obvious reasons.» «One of the great challenges of the Herod Atticus performances for me was the fact that we avoided a purely psychological interpretation,» she says. «We avoided an old-fashioned interpretation, and we opted for simplicity. It was imposed on us by Mr Margaritis. So don’t expect any explosions on stage.» Produced by the Cultural Olympiad, «Electra» is based on a translation by K.H. Myris and George Fotinos; stage and costume design is by Carmenitsa Brosbogiou and lighting by Lefteris Pavlopoulos. Sophocles’s «Electra» will be performed at the Herod Atticus Theater, Dionysiou Areopagitou, Acropolis, tel 010.323.2771, 010.323.5582. Ticket purchases and credit card reservations can be made at the festival’s box office which is located in the arcade at 39 Panepistimiou, tel 010.322.1459, Monday-Friday 8.30 a.m.-4 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m.-2.30 p.m.