YIANNIS TSIROS' THEATRE,
- Savas Patsalidis, Professor, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki
The Revelatory Realism of Yiannis Tsiros
The dispersing circumstances of the recent decades may have favored the dynamic emergence of the concept of the "other" at the world theatre, it was, however, the Greek theatre which first showed the way. Can one think of a more staggering example than Persians and Trojan women? Who can forget Hecuba, Andromache, Darius and Xerxes or the exceptional Medea in the tragedy of the same title?
With such a rich legacy, the gradually increasing number of our modern playwrights who turn with concern and anguish to sensitive issues that vertically permeate the diverse body of the Greek society, provoking various reactions and rearrangements, should not come as a surprise. And I'm not referring to Lula Anagnostaki or Petros Markaris, for example – who have both written great plays with a focus on the theme of "the other" – but to even more recent artists, of whom I distinguish the talented Yiannis Tsiros, who fishes ideas from the tank of this huge Greek theatrical family and turns them into instantaneous events of our neo-liberal era.
Tsiros was born in the prefecture of Messinia, grew up in Athens, studied design and photography, and also took music lessons. He became widely known to the theatre lovers in 2004 with Unshaved Chins, a play that was awarded by the Ministry of Culture. It is a simple play but one full of truths, with leading characters three nurses who often spend their free time in strip clubs. Their lives are shaken the moment the dead body of a young Russian stripper – with whom they all had occasionally been affiliated – is transferred to their workplace. Face to face with the body they once exploited, they are now asked to do their own personal account; but, are they capable?
Tsiros is a writer who refuses to take anything for granted; there is reason and riposte for everything, as in this case, where he is not content to merely scrutinize the ideology of the gaze onto the defenseless female body, but also wants to rigorously criticize the men’s sexual behavior. His aim is to investigate the male look and the manner in which it reacts when met with the female - and especially the unprotected or vulnerable one.
In the works that follow, Tsiros continues to testify his concern and anxiety about everything that constitutes the mosaic of the modern Greek (and European) reality. It seems that he has well understood the world around him and, because of that, he does not gild the pill. In particular, he appears to have a profound knowledge of the Greek province, which is the reason why his stories often unfold against the backdrop of the provincial landscape. It is as if he is looking there – in a supposedly erstwhile purer homeland – for the essence of the Greek’s true soul, the cause and effect chain, what went wrong and he came to become a – nominally – European who only cares for his survival, with no rules and principles; free, but also completely indifferent to the freedom of others, so long as he is well.
In Four Eyes (2007), the story swirls around the life and times of a 21-year-old girl named Anna, pursued all over Athens for stealing a lipstick from a department store. In her effort to avoid arrest, Anna had also pushed a policewoman, resulting in the latter’s light injury. To deal with the “felony”, the entire state apparatus is immediately put into operation. From the capture of the delinquent until her punishment, every representative of the state becomes a faceless person; the police officer – rigid – enforces the law, the legislator renounces his personal relationship with the offender, the judge keeps appropriate distances. Only the reporter – supposedly – seeks to "vindicate" the "weak". Then, the disclosure on the television becomes his ultimate haven; and the price of salvation is the castigation of his weakness.
Who will, ultimately, control the state’s arbitrariness, asks the author? What is the role of the television media in this omnivorous game of the quadruple (legislative, executive, judicial and the press’– hence the title) power? According to the playwright, we are all responsible for Anna’s plight, because we created and sustained a society that victimizes weak people like her. It is a society where justice is blind; it sees at will and shot.
With the Invisible Olga that follows, Tsiros participated in the subsidized European program “Emergency Entrance” where, apart from our own National Theatre, we find the Garibaldi theatre of Italy, Israel's Habima National Theatre, the national theatre of Prague, the Hungarian theatre of Cluj-Romania and the Schauspielhaus Graz of Austria. The play was presented with great success at the National Theatre in 2012, along with Lena Kitsopoulou’s work Austrass or Wildness, in a single performance with the very indicative title The Foreigner.
In this play, Yiannis Tsiros is once again concerned with the exploitation of the weak, the foreigner (and therefore "invisible"). Only, this time, the story almost becomes a theatre-documentary, since it is based on the testimonies of people who have experienced racism due to their “otherness”. At the heart of the play lies the harsh experience of a young foreign girl, who becomes a victim of human trafficking and an object of hard transaction. Tsiros, providing facts and information in the right doses, reveals the dark paths of an entire mechanism that knows very well how to seal all the escape routes.
This closed-circuit image dominates his next venture, Wild Seed, a revealing examination of a society steeped in decay, in half-truths, prejudices and strange dealings. The leading characters are the regional policeman (the representative of power), the owner of the 'Skewer on Grill" canteen – illegally stationed in the provincial beach – Haroula, his young daughter, and the missing body of a foreigner…
Once again, the foreigner is placed on the opposite side, treated as the "rival"; with carefully-regulated maneuvers, Tsiros triggers small – albeit intense – conflicts that gradually increase, revealing countless carcinomas that relentlessly continue their disfiguring metastases. His speech is clear, at times deliberately and revealingly violent, but also poetic, allusive and ambiguous where necessary; he is not anxious to say everything at once. Like a good storyteller, Tsiros has mastered the art of suspense; he slowly reveals the secrets of the (suspected) murder case of a young German in the tourist beach. With proper escalations, de-escalations and unexpected climaxes, he creates an on-stage atmosphere of police mystery that keeps the spectator permanently wondering, when all he wants is to find out what's going on: Who killed the young German? Is it possible that no one killed him and he just disappeared? Who will eventually reveal the absolute truth? Who will tell us where reality stops and pretense begins? With the way our society is structured, can there be an answer? The answer is difficult, this is why Tsiros does not provide one.
In his most recent work – when this essay was completed – Free Waters (2013), the playwright employs the codes of the political-psychological thriller, in order to study the phenomenon of juvenile recruitment, focusing on its pure motives and consequences. The leading characters are three teenagers, high school students, with a highly-developed ecological consciousness, recruited in a case of water resource management. Led by one of their friends – who will never appear on stage but with whom they only speak on the phone – they decide to do something foolhardy: they kidnap the young son of the president of a certain Water Conservation Society, whose sole purpose is to capitalize and not conserve the water – Marcus’ father also works for that company. After abducting the young man, they put him in a basement and – using the slogan "Free Water!" – demand from the boy’s father to stop the water’s denationalization – arranged by his company – within three days, during which they will completely deprive his son of water.
The president remains silent. At the end of the third day he dismisses their request, with the justification that it is extortionate. During this time, the three children’s relations with their young prisoner go through several phases; profoundly sensitive, they all fear for the boy’s fate, and this is why every one of them – individually and without the others knowing – gives him some water. Meanwhile, they begin pondering over whether their chosen way of protest is the right one. They are consumed with doubts. With this play, written specifically for young audiences, Tsiros shows that the only path to adulthood is the recognition of one’s limits through extreme behavior. What responsibilities should the young rebels face? What are the boundaries of their behavior? Who is their real enemy?
Throughout his work, Yiannis Tsiros proves to be a creator with an acid critical and penetrating wit. With no exaggerations, without waving the banner of revolution and without confirmations, he handles his material in such a way that he enables the recipient to take his own decisions. In this sense, he may indeed record what he sees, but he is not a simple photographer of life, a dispatcher of impressions and news, adhering to the standards imposed by a misconceived on-screen naturalism. He is a suspicious observer who sets forth deep ideas through everyday speech and untypical thoughts in ordinary situations. He is a realist of the postmodern era, who knows how to create cracks in the seemingly solid social body, allowing us to see what we live but are actually unable to perceive. In this light, one could say that his modern realism meets the "anti-realism" of a postmodern Brecht.
[Translation: Elena Delliou]