The Curtain Theatre (Θέατρο Αυλαία) of Thessaloniki opens its doors to one of its most controversial late national poets, Yannis Ritsos, revived for the occasion by director Dimos Avdeliodis and actress Veroniki Argentzi, who take Ελένη (Helen) out for an excruciating stroll onto the most banal stage we’ve seen so far in Greece.
L’essere umano, l’unica creatura in grado di annoiarsi, è anche l’unica a bramare la “poesia” – un “andare oltre se stessi” –, a esplorare le possibilità piuttosto che limitarsi a trangugiare i fatti. L’Elena (Ελένη) di Dimos Avdeliodis suscita entrambi questi istinti, propendendo drammaticamente sul primo e facendo leva sul secondo per tenere i meno vispi pesantemente ancorati (e assopiti) sulle poltrone, mentre gli altri esercitano il proprio, sacrosanto, diritto di darsela a gambe levate.
Tο ανθρώπινο ον, το μόνο πλάσμα ικανό να νοιώσει την πλήξη, είναι επίσης το μόνο που νοιώθει τον πόθο για την “ποίηση” – την ανάγκη να “προσπεράσει τον ίδιο του τον εαυτό” -, να εξερευνήσει τις πιθανότητες αντί να περιοριστεί στο να καταβροχθίσει τα γεγονότα. Η Ελένη του Δήμου Αβδελιώδη προξενεί ακριβώς αυτά τα δύο ένστικτα, κλίνοντας δραματικά στο πρώτο και χρησιμοποιώντας το δεύτερο για να κρατήσει τους λιγότερο ζωηρούς βαριά αγκυρωμένους (και νυσταγμένους) στις θέσεις τους, ενώ οι υπόλοιποι κάνουν χρήση του ιερού τους δικαιώματος να αποδράσουν τρέχοντας.
The night is senile. Upstage as much as in the parterre. The war has been over for many a years now, and the fate of the sought-after «face that launch’d a thousand ships/And burnt the topless towers of Ilium», as Marlowe would put it, has withered and grown «old, ugly, hunched, motionless». An unappealing Helen of Troy stands before us in a decrepit house, where she’s been left alone to navigate the «upper depth» of her own mind. But her ship won’t go down quietly. Yannis Ritsos’s poem Helen is a long and carefully-crafted monologue to be savoured slowly, weighing every word on the tongue before letting it go run and play with its other friends. And maybe this is the justification for the gruelling and mentronomical performance orchestrated by Dimos Avdeliodis.
Within a whirlpool of poetical stereotypes such as sliding clouds, silken veils, white clothes and a predictable Flower Duet, our Helen (Veroniki Argentzi) does not find a way to make the material justify its theatrical format, and does not hold the scene not even for a minute simply because there is no scene to hold in the first place. As commendable as it may be to bring to the fore the work of the Nobel-Prize nominee poet (banned under the Papadopoulos regime and just recently made available for study), something must be done to differentiate a pièce from a live reading, something more than just adding frills and shills to a voice.
It is known that theatre used to be a festivity, a leap out of the ordinary back in the days. Nowadays, however, it is poetry in the theatre to be a «palpable excursion from everyday to holiday», from the realism we so often see in theatres to a more poetic reality. One must tread carefully, though, amid these categories. It is wrong to equate realism with whatever is harsh, sordid and pessimistic, and the poetic with whatever is gentle and fair. Indeed, by doing so, one can easily fall into the trap of reciting rather than acting, certain that whatever is done with a “poem” must turn out “poetic” as well. If the job of the poet is to try and remake language enough to be able to say something new, to take all the words which are exhausted day-to-day and make them strange and unpredictable, to let them mean more, the job of an actor cannot be simply to try and get those words right.
Blaming Helen, however, was never a fair move. What must be blamed is the latest trend – shared as we’ve seen so far by many theatre productions – of hiding behind someone else’s work, bringing on the stage monologues after monologues, feeding off the reputation of those who lived for years under house arrest for their ideas and their struggle to create something meaningful. As exacting as it may be, stealing fire from the gods has always been a most human vocation. Quenching that fire, however, is a terrible act, and it leaves us with a mere list of words to shell out, a “poetic” shopping list.
The show is still playing
Curtain Theatre (Θέατρο Αυλαία)
YMCA square – Thessaloniki
from Tuesday 23 to Sunday 26 March 2017
Ελένη – Helen
written by Yannis Ritsos
teaching interpretation, stage appearance, direction Dimos Avdeliodis
performer Veroniki Argentzi
clothes Aristidis Patsoglou
music The Flower Duet (Lakmé), Léo Delibes
production manager Athina Zotou
communication and PR Kyriakos Keranopoulos
production Anagnorisis (Non Profit Film Theater Company)