Lost In Interpretation

The world is a bad place. «Teen mothers in tracksuits with fags in their mouths, smacking their kids in supermarkets, being a gran by thirty, multiplying like rats. I don’t want to bring my child into this world full of crack dealers and pimps and homeless, and I know this sounds reactionary but let’s not be politically, you know, correct about this for a second, there are some people who just shouldn’t have children. They just shouldn’t». But Duncan Macmillan knows what we need: we need Lungs to catch our breath and then face the abyss of uncertainties that lies ahead.

 

Spoiler

Quando non si possiedono i grimaldelli per scardinare la realtà, farla a pezzi e carpirne la fattura, si rischia di soffermarsi sulla placida superficie, ignari dei mostri lovercraftiani che si celano al di sotto. Lungs di Duncan Macmillan smuove con grazia e sobrietà le acque e ci offre una squisita rappresentazione della contemporaneità cesellata con la perizia di un osservatore consapevole degli enormi limiti umani. Pnevmones di Dimitris Lalos, invece, si limita a svolazzare leggero e con noncuranza sulla patina lustra dell’oggi, senza mai tuffarsi nella torbida e amara complessità dell’essere.

[riduci]

 

Spoiler

Όταν δεν είμαστε ικανοί να υπονομεύσουμε την πραγματικότητα και να την αποδεκατίσουμε ώστε να αντιληφθούμε την δεξιοτεχνία της· ρισκάρουμε να παραμείνουμε επιδερμικοί παρατηρητές της, εν άγνοια των Λοβκραφτικών τεράτων που υποβόσκουν κάτω απο την φαινομενική νηνεμία της. Οι Πνεύμονες (Lungs) του Duncan Macmillan, ταράζουν τα νερά με χάρη και νηφαλιότητα προσφέροντας μας μια εξαιρετική αναπαράσταση του σύγχρονου, σμιλεμένη με την πείρα ενός πεπειραμένου παρατηρητή των ατέρμονων ανθρώπινων ορίων. Εν αντιθέσει, οι Πνεύμονες του Δημήτριου Λάλου, περιορίζονται σε μια ανάλαφρη και ανέμελη περιπλάνηση στην στιλπνή επιφάνεια του σήμερα, παραβλέποντας την σκοτεινή και πικρόχολη πολυπλοκότητα του είναι.

[riduci]

 

At the beginning of last century, the father of Russian formalism Vladimir Propp published his greatest work, the Morphology of the Folktale. According to him, every narration featured identical elements, every story, then, was (and still is) a developed repetition of an older story rooted in the even older oral tales told in times immemorial. Believing that the world is filled with a fixed number of stories and a fixed way of telling them is a beautiful and reassuring way of thinking about our existence, and it also assures us that every single story we tell, is always going to be a true one.

Lungs by Duncan Macmillan is, beyond any doubt, a true story. We have all the elements of a classic myth: a hero/heroine (M), a anti-hero/anti-heroine (W), a struggle (to make or not to make a baby), a transfiguration (aka growing up) and a return (happy ending). Moreover, this play is also a current myth, the product of a new school of British playwrights who strive to tell simple, smart and highly theatrical stories. As a matter of fact, the non-existent scenography and the lack of pantomime allow the audience to wholly focus on what is being represented before their eyes, and to recognize themselves in the everyday challenge of being human. It seems almost as if Sarah Kane’s gritty times are back, albeit with less gore (and more political correctness).

Pnevmones by Dimitris Lalos (from TempusVerum theatre company), however, is none of the above. One can only speculate on the reasons behind the choices that led to his flagrant misinterpretation of the play, but surely it can be said that something went wrong. Yes, the play is funny (as the carefully-cropped critic’s excerpts remind us), but there’s so much more to it. Behind every laugh, every smirk even, there’s a plunge into the depths of our rawest, more disgusting and human core, where the playwright awaits patiently to sucker-punch us and leave us gasping for air. Nevertheless, the Greek production opted for a shallow and self-important reading of the text, wagering everything on the reputation of its leading actors (who got on the stage from the main aisle, basking in an outburst of pubescent applauses, in case you were wondering) rather than doing justice to what has been hailed by everyone as a worthwhile piece of contemporary theatre.

«This play is written to be performed on a bare stage. There is no scenery, no furniture, no props and no mime. There are no costume changes. Light and sound should not be used to indicate a change in time or place», notes Macmillan in his stage directions. And yet we find ourselves thrown into a tacky soap-opera even before the performance begins, due to the truly unnerving muzak that plays for a draining thirty minutes while we slowly take our seats. Background music that one could be led to think belongs to the theatre but really end up discovering it being part of the performance when Vaso Kavalieratou and Apostolis Totsikas finally get on stage and start a larger-than-life dance on top of some interlocking yoga mats. Just to set the mood right.

As much as every theatre director is entitled to his/her interpretation of a play, whenever your audience laughs (very loudly, interrupting the acting, even) at the mentioning of suicide, abortion, miscarriage and broken families, then you might want to rethink your reading skills, or bring them into question at the very least. What can be said, then, with a view to a constructive critic, is that Pnevmones brings two very interesting aspects of theatre to the fore: the interpretability of a text and, most importantly, what this tells us about the society that produced such interpretation. The neurotic, witty and utterly lost couple portrayed by Macmillan is meant to strike a responsive chord into each and every one of us, recalling a conversation we must have had at least once in our lives. When, however, we seem to fail to pick up such collective hesitation on the verge of baby-making (with consequent carbon-footprint increase), then those lines failed to resonate within us, something due to either bad acting (the illegitimate son of a careless direction), or lack of empathy.

Albeit the constant stripping of the beefy Adonis and the nerve-racking, bimbo-like cadence of his silly (against all written evidence) companion didn’t help the catharsis in any way, it’s fair to entertain the idea that if the unrest of that British «generation for whom uncertainty is a way of life» did not come through as dramatic and distressing, it is also because it is not welcome in these Hellenic lands. Indeed, the creaking and squeaking of chairs under the weight of the uncomfortable and anxious onlookers during the stormiest patches of this journey toward sentimental maturity never failed to precede a longed-for, liberating and definitely untimely laughter. Every pretext was good to blow on the small fire that tried to catch on in spite of all the choking done to it, turning the house of the Theatre Aristoteleion into an actual talk show studio, with its pre-recorded “oohs” and “aahs”.

Ultimately, the generation (divided by behaviour, and not by age) that filled the seats was not afraid of uncertainty, but of long-term commitments. What frightened it the most was any emotional and relational involvement that would last longer than the latest pair of shoes bought to fill a void much deeper then an empty uterus. Willingly or not, the true story that Dimitris Lalos puts on the stage is not Macmillan’s current myth, but the haunting tale of a disposable people who could only feel something when they were blissfully goggling at a nice posterior, unaware of the pile of smothering idiocy they were covering themselves in, one laugh at a time.

The show is still playing
Theatre Aristoteleion
Ethnikis Amynis str. 2 – Thessaloniki
13, 14, 20 and 21 March, 2017
Monday and Thursday 21.00

TempusVerum theatre company presents
Lungs (ΠΝΕΥΜΟΝΕΣ)
written by Duncan Macmillan
direction Dimitris Lalos
translation Kristel Kaperoni
sets-costumes Michalis Saplaouras
music Yorgos Mavridis
lighting Periclis Mathielis
dramatist Katerin Diakopoulou
photography Roula Revi
cast Vaso Kavalieratou, Apostolis Totsikas

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