The Greeks of Now as I Saw Them
Passionate, precise, talented and extremely aware of their own past, the artists behind the provocative Homesickness Blues offer a honest and all-encompassing look on what it is home away from home, successfully mixing candour, sass, wit and music into a fully mature play.
Travolgenti, precisi, talentuosi ed estremamente consapevoli del proprio passato, gli artisti responsabile del conturbante Homesickness Blues offrono uno sguardo onesto e onnicomprensivo su cosa significa casa quando si è lontani da casa, mescolando con successo schiettezza, impertinenza, verve e musica all’interno di una pièce che ha già raggiunto la sua completa maturità.
Παθιασμένοι, ακριβείς, ταλαντούχοι και εξαιρετικά ενήμεροι για το δικό τους παρελθόν, οι καλλιτέχνες πίσω από το προκλητικό Homesickness Blues προσφέρουν μια ειλικρινή και περιεκτική ματιά σε αυτό που είναι το σπίτι μακριά από το σπίτι, αναμιγνύοντας με επιτυχία την ειλικρίνεια, το θράσος, την σπιρτάδα και τη μουσική σε μια πλήρως ώριμη παράσταση.
Between the 1890s and the early 20th century, due mainly to the alluring economic situation in the so-called Land of Opportunities, more than 450.000 Greeks arrived on the coasts of the United States of America, adding to an already significant community of immigrants from all over Europe. As duly recorded by many journalists of the time such as J.P. Xenides (The Greeks in America) and Theodore Saloutos (The Greeks in the United States), each wave of immigration contributed to the growth of both an interest in Hellenism and a scorn for its human representation in the guise of a loud, dirty and short-tempered Greek man. In an attempt to escape from the patriarchal culture of these defective reports and, at the same time, in order to give a more inclusive image of this diaspora, musician and professor Kostas Vomvolos and director Akyllas Karazisis, together with playwrights Anastasia Gellou and Rodia Vomvolou, decided to create a «musical theatre» play hinging on the work of Maria Sarandopoulou Oikonomidou, the first Greek (woman) journalist to ever visit immigrants’ settlements in 1914 America.
Homesickness Blues, then, is a joint effort to portray the difficulties that immigrant workers (90% of whom were men, in the Greek case) faced in mines and construction works, while practical Greek women learned English in New York. Through the blood-and-thunder stage presence of singer/actress Katerina Sisinni and actress Marilou Vomvolou, Maria Sarandopoulou Oikonomidou’s reflections and fears are brilliantly represented on the scene with a mixture of irony and graveness, pulsing along the spot-on rhythms of The Speakeasies Swing Band’s exquisite accompaniment.
As the journalist herself states in the introduction of her work, The Greeks of America as I Saw Them, «Beautiful thoughts don’t become more beautiful if they are covered with the cloak that embroiders the graphic register. The impulse to write was not generated by personal calculations, but by the beats of a woman’s heart, the goosebumps of a Greek soul who saw up close and with pain the withering of a budding Greek youth within the poisonous effluvia scattered all around by the unconscious exploitation, a soul who giddily beheld the tree of immigrants’ hopes as it threw on the ground its lustreless leaves, as if shook by the frosty wind of cupidity». And the same honesty and straight-forwardness we find on the stage. Thanks to an almost perfect chemistry between the two main interpreters (part of the theatre company Lotus Eaters, which already worked on the topic of one’s country of origin in the performance Resetting Homeland) – who exchange biting lines at a frenetic pace without ever losing the audience’s agape look –, we are presented with an hilarious and yet dreary account of the hopes, hardships and solutions that Greek immigrants carried with them throughout their travelling travail. Thus, Miss Sofia, the bosomy singer in the sordid joint filled to the brim with miners and workers, is not an example of how women used to resort to their bodies in order to make a living for themselves, but an anthropological necessity for all those weary men who, far from home, were desperately looking for an angry fix of tradition and belonging: «Dear Madam, do you think that among all these men in here, someone sees a woman in the body of the singer? No. We all listen to her songs, we get lost in the violin. Alas if we didn’t have such things from time to time, we would have all turned into animals by now!»
«Why did I leave? Why did they leave?» The journalist asks the same questions time and again, slowly but surely giving shape to that homesickness blues that the band hints at every now and then. A blues that explodes in all its entirety only at the end of the show, when very few answers have been found, and the only joy that comes out of the Land of Opportunities is every little speck of home that one can find, even in a bizarre Garden of the Bells, where Greece is thus contradictorily represented: «Number 157. Bell made of red brass from Sparta, Greece, of the type slaves used to wear on their necks in ancient times».
The show was played at
Theatre of the Society for Macedonian Studies
Ethnikis Aminis st. 2 – Thessaloniki
Thursday 14 June 2018
Lotus Eaters present
idea and music editing Kostas Vomvolos
direction Akyllas Karazisis
dramaturgy Anastasia Gellou, Rodia Vomvolou
sets and costumes Zoe Molyvda-Fameli, Dido Gogou
interpreters Marilou Vomvolou, Katerina Sisinni
music performers The Speakeasies Swing Band!