ARTEMIS MOUSTAKLIDOU'S THEATRE,
- Kiriaki Petrakou, Professor at the Faculty of Theatre Studies at the University of Athens
Micro-scopic and Macro-scopic perspective: two one-act plays by Artemis Moustaklidou
Τhe one-act play by Artemis Moustaklidou The threat (1st State Award for playwright 1913) is written upon the tradition of neohellenic realistic theatre, from 1970 and onwards with elements from the absurd. The stylistic blending and the contemporary and topical (but not current) issues raised make the play modern. This on-going growing obsession with the TV is to blame for the tendancy to substitute not only entertainment but also any other activity- besides the necessary ones, and sometimes even these. The structural unit of society the married couple, exists always, however, is isolated from relatives, friends and neighbors. If other human relations once existed, now, near the middle age, are a distant memory. The first decades’ motifs are expressed and explored by the absurd, they almost appear as references, not very cryptic: the unexplained tremor, which is the axis in Albee's A Delicate Balance, the child who is not even present is to fill their void of existence, though not with each other’s fantasies, such as the same writer’s Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf but here with the ambivalence towards the incessantly crying baby next door, the threatening neighbors we never see, in Ionesco’s and Pinter’s works. It starts gently, with a dialogue somehow influenced by television series: a middle-aged couple grumbles and unbearably scolds for all, but especially what they choose to watch on television. Through their ceaseless dispute, their mental needs and opinions are revealed upon everyone who seeks satisfaction and replenishment via the most common matter of modern times "employment". The topic that arouses their attention (in the TV episode) is the existence of four children. The classic modern conservative concept: "Woman: He was married to a little woman, actually, he turned her into a little woman. At first it was fine, but after four children you can easily imagine how it happened [...] he abandoned her with four children and left with a model. As usual in post war Modern Greek Theatre, this issue did not follow the social trends (while at the beginning of the 20th century and in the interwar period, the new role of the woman appears to be investigated along with its extensions in several works of several authors of both sexes), the woman is a housewife and housebound in a degree of fear and neurosis. They end up watching a quiz show. By an incorrect answer to an easy question a rather low educational level is revealed. In the next scene and in another dramatic instance they are discussing the cause of noise, while some moves in their long-lasting disagreement reach the level of soft violence. It is maybe the "old geezer/old fart" who lives above - they end up back on TV. Sounds from a crying baby from the apartment next door. The action expands at some time and is transferred to certain scenes in the bedroom, where they are again engaged on TV and they are zapping while they are in parallel indulging in speculations about their neighbors. It is evident that they would like to get to know them so to escape their isolation, but the existence of a baby and the likeliness of other newborns, displeases them. It seems they have also quarreled with the friends of their youth and from then and on they are alone. Their friends chose to leave in order to have isolation and quietness - this bothered the couple and they sworn never to reconnect with other people, to limit themselves to one another. "Woman: Now it'll be different. I can feel it. / Man: Just the two of us. No friends, nothing." The assumptions continues with similar discussions, only now suspicion is added to the extent that that their neighbors are foreigners: "Albanians, Pakistanis, Black I have no idea. The uncovering of their intense racism, social and racial, aggravates them. They wonder if they can find a way to kick out their neighbors or kill them. They believe they are in danger: "Man: There is no why. That’s what they do. They rob and kill you for no reason. " Their paranoia -boosted from the television series and the constant baby crying- is escalating. The man ceases to go to work and they are emptying the library so to perfectly lock door. They have a gun. "Woman: What if they wait for you downstairs, in the entrance or round the corner? This is not a well-thought decision. " The man suddenly believes that his wife is planning to kill him. "Man: Did you think of something wrong with your little brain? Did you suddenly decide to become independent?" Although they learn that the apartment is empty, that the baby died, they are apathetic, their condition shows no sign of improvement. They persist in their confinement by watching incessantly TV. It becomes apparent from their appearance that they have sunk into psychosis. In the end, the guy shoots the TV.
Four square metres is an one-act play, which transfers the term from the novel to the screen, we would call it "science fiction." The dramatic time is in the future, in the aftermath of a nuclear war. Notis Pergialis has written a same topic play, when the young writer had no knowledge of it: The golden pill.
The dramatic personalities are two young women and a boy plus two older ones called grandpa and grandma, without being relatives. They live together because it was decided by the delegates of the Central Command Office, they have the jurisdiction to decide who will occupy the living space of the four square metres. The young man has sex with both young women. Women have the names Elpida (Hope) and Hara (Joy), which obviously have optimistic connotations, while the name of Achilles represents a contentious and competitive male, as shown by the namesake hero in the Iliad. The young people live with pills that supposedly protect them from the radiation of their tiny apartment. The pills are a subject of claim for those who want to survive, nearly all, who kill in order to acquire them. Almost thirty years have passed in a situation as such. There is the uncertainty of how the world is now, as they move hastily from their work, to the hospital in order to purchase the pills and to the small, multi-leveled smothering apartment building. Their grandfather speaks about furious children, dead in the streets, burnt earth. The official announcement is that the only survived species is the human being. Besides the pills, the living space is the subject of claim for those who do not acquire it. When the grandmother dies they seek a way to secretly get rid of the corpse by fooling everyone: both authorities and homeless people. Religion is an unknown concept. "After the war, when the Central Command Office established the rules for survival it had ordered anyone who had a picture (of Virgin Mary) to hand it over to the Interplanetary Police and strictly forbade any reference to her name." However they have been informend about it from their elders and they hope that if they can find a hidden icon they will pray in order to get what they wish " only the 3 of us could live in 23 whole square metres with 2 extra portions of food, water and pills. Every day. Better than everyone! ". They plan to chop up the elders, a woman finds a saw in exchange for sexual favors with the administrator, the old men fall out of the window. The administration understands what happens and reduces the living space to two square metres, the perpetual claim goes on between them by deceiving one another.
In the first play the writer focuses with a magnifying glass on the interior and the private space and the mentaliy of two average modern people which show the typical pathology of the contemporary western life: isolation, alienation in interpersonal relations, lack of social and spiritual interests, heartlessness, neurosis, malice, xenophobia, obsessions, paranoia: everything is a potential threat to their safety, this empty and sad safety of mediocre life without vital space, this is claimed to be the modern ideal. If the incumbent lifestyle is responsible for the miniaturization and distortion of the human condition, they themselves share responsibility with lack of logic and sense of infinite selfishness which in the end characterizes them. It is difficult for somenone to see them as victims, or if they are, they are not innocent.
The second play has a more comprehensive/catholic perspective. A more comprehensive/overall condition is presented via some people’s relationships: the man has managed to destroy the environment and all the structures of civilization. It has to survive and (not to live) in a very restricted living space, which asphyxiates him. From the ordinary human relationships only some elemental ones are left: little companionship and some fake solidarity, they are eager, at all times, to betray for sex and self-preservation. Humanities and spiritual values are unknown, such as feelings of love and offer. On the contrary, deceit, exploitation of anykind is appropriate for a minor improvement, they are the norm, especially among the young, who still desire life. The elderly surrender to despair and only they have left a speck of love for their neighbor and they can count on someone else; but the positivity is not transmissible. Is this the future of humanity or is the human condition when stripped from the edifice of civilization? The writer does not seem to believe in them man, she would rather warn him that selfishness and moral blindness is destined to eat his head.
[Translation: Artemis Palaska]