‘Female Parts’ and eternal issues

Live-wire actress Shirin Youssefian brings formidable energy to her current stint at the Athinais, where she performs in «Female Parts,» two Franca Rame-Dario Fo monologues bridged by a Persian fairy tale. Her English-language production, directed by Cassi Moghan, is running back to back with «My Mother’s Sin,» an adaptation of a story by Giorgos Vizyinos. The plays are all linked by the common theme of motherhood, approached in very different ways. Youssefian and Moghan, Britons based in Athens, talked to Kathimerini English Edition about «Female Parts» and the role of the theater. The two have worked together before, on a play they wrote themselves. «I invited Cassi to be my director,» says Youssefian, «because I thought she’d do a brilliant job.» Moghan, a performer herself, who worked with the prestigious Black Mime theater company in Britain, has turned to directing now that «the desire to perform is satisfied» by her work in a rock band, Bad Mathematics, which also supplied the music for the show. The first monologue in «Female Parts» enacts a woman’s rising frenzy as she attempts to get out the door of her apartment on a normal working day with a baby to tend, a zillion tasks to perform, and not much assistance from her spouse. The second is a more somber piece, a modern reworking of the Medea story. Stirring stuff, but haven’t those issues dated a little since Rame and Fo penned these pieces in the 1970s? Not at all, believes Youssefian: «Not everybody’s living in a post-feminist world.» Moghan describes talking to very young people after the performances: «They hadn’t seen that kind of stuff and they were completely gobsmacked… It was like: ‘That’s me’ or ‘That’s my mum!’ It’s something they recognized, women who are holding things together, women doing all those things, trying to be everything.» Youssefian contrasts the experience of reading about such issues and seeing them acted out: «When you present it like that, that’s the power of theater – image. There were some young boys in the audience the other day. They loved it. They looked about 17 to 18, Greek boys, and they were like this» (She mimes someone looking transfixed) «throughout the whole thing, and laughing. And maybe it’ll make them question something that they’ve never questioned before. It’s totally normal for them that mum does everything and dad comes home from work and watches TV and falls asleep. Many of those issues still apply to much of Greek society.» The production has been very much a collaborative process. «It was great,» says Moghan. «We were bouncing ideas backward and forward. It’s like a game in a way – throwing out an idea, trying it out.» Have audiences appreciated the combination of plays? «Very much,» says Moghan. «They’re so different that they somehow bring out things you wouldn’t necessarily feel if you only saw one of them. The Vizyinos is a very dark, very different play; then there’s the interval and suddenly there’s this upbeat, comic, extreme, energetic, physical performance in contrast.» And then, Youssefian adds, «ours shifts into the ‘Medea,’ which becomes dark, and is about murdering children. So it tends to go full circle, and people leave the theater not just laughing, but with the feeling that they’ve got something a bit deeper to look at.» Catalysts for thinking Both women are interested in politically oriented theater. For Youssefian, being political nowadays means «having a conscience, being socially aware of the changes that are going on, of the changes that are needed in society, about what processes are going on. I’m not talking about the wranglings of small political groups and parties. Although as a young person theater was my passion, I think as I’ve grown older, it was natural that my work should reflect some of those principles and philosophies, and things that I feel need changing in society. It’s not something I impose on my work; it’s something that comes naturally out of what I am, what I believe in. But I do believe that theater can be a catalyst for thinking differently – for change even. I think that actors, performers and people who work in theater actually do have a social responsibility. I’m not one of those art-for-art’s-sake type people. I don’t think that the message should somehow cover up, let’s say, or compromise the artistic, but I do think there should be something to think about, when you’re going to the theater.» When younger, Moghan shared what she calls «that whole love of theater, and wanting to perform, and being into all the lights and the drama.» But in her four years with Black Mime, a theater troupe that tackles social issues, «I spent a very intensive time researching subjects. For example, we did a show on alcoholism amongst women and went into prisons. Now I don’t know if I could work with something that’s just for the sake of being up there, just for the sake of entertainment. Although I do think that theater should be entertainment as well, but definitely I think theater has something to say, and I think we should try and say it.» Getting the message across usually includes mounting bilingual productions. An example is the previous show the two women worked on together, «Amazons,» which was about breast cancer. «We wanted to make that bilingual,» explains Youssefian, «because we felt that the subject was so important to Greek society. There was such a taboo about breast cancer, which we discovered in our almost six months of research. People didn’t want to talk about it. Women hadn’t told their families that they’d had mastectomies; one woman hadn’t even told her husband that she had breast cancer. One of the organizations that we approached told us that they would give us their support only if we didn’t say the word cancer. It was unbelievable. «So we made the play totally bilingual. Not only was it very practical that it was bilingual, but artistically it was very exciting, because we used the bilingual quality to enhance the theatricality. For example, if the woman was feeling very isolated, surrounded by all this doctor-speak, medical-speak, then you’d have all the doctors speaking Greek and she was speaking English, or the other way round. So that worked very well.» Coming up Other bilingual performances include a show commissioned by the Clean Up Greece environmental organization. When this production ends on December 1, Youssefian goes back to Britain to rework her show about a woman in Iran who may have been the first suffragette. Her next performance in Greece is a show on equal pay, commissioned by the Research Center for Gender Equality. Moghan plans to concentrate on being a rock chick with Bad Mathematics, who have a gig this Sunday at Ston Aera music club in Petroupolis Square, tel 210.505.6099.

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