AKIS DIMOU'S THEATRE,
- LIna Rosi, Assistant Professor Department of Theatre Studies University of Patras
Drawing word and emotional landscapes on stage
Akis Dimou is one of the most acclaimed representatives of the new generation of Greek playwrights. What we can see, nearly after twenty years of the performance of his first play …and Juliet produced in the Experimental Scene of "Art", in Thessaloniki in 1995, is that all of his plays have been published and most of them staged. In addition, it has to be said that some of them were put on by different directors following diverse approaches, while others were mounted in theatres outside Greece. Doubtlessly, one of the factors that contributed to his being established is his steady relationship with the theatrical stage, which as he also points out has never been easy or self evident. In his case though what is really interesting is the fact that he has worked together, covering a broad spectrum, both as a writer and as a dramaturg, with theatrical groups, directors and actors that differ a lot as for their aesthetical choices: experimental groups and directors, national theatres, acclaimed actors, theatrical groups and those of the music theatre that belong to the field of mainstream entertainment.
Dimou belongs to the new generation of playwrights who appear on the Greek stage in the 1990s and experiment with new dramaturgical forms exceeding the rule of the (photographic) social and psychological realism. Most of the playwrights of this generation, regardless of the aesthetics each one fosters, usually develop a more direct relation with the field of theatrical practice, at the same time they also remain in touch with European theatre, factors that without a doubt act as creative drives. Dimou claims that he works a lot on his “equal participation” in the performance process, as it is through this that he can perceive the theatrical act.
He experiments on various forms and constructs a complex theatrical language based on specific recognizable features that not only refer to the dramaturgical techniques he works on, but also to his subject matter quests.
One of these features is his working on the genre of dramatic monologue. The monologue in contemporary theatrical writing has developed into one of the most popular genres. On the one hand because it can combine the reflection on the various versions of gendered, social, national, historical and mythical subjects, with the meta-theatrical function and with the motivation of the creative process of reception, and on the other it can constitute a perfect vehicle for assessing an actor’s creativity. Dimou has repeatedly worked with this theatrical genre, already since his first work. The female protagonists of his monologues, regardless of whether they come from contemporary reality or from a mythical or historical world, rely on speech in order to ‘exist’, to narrate their course in life, while they always invent one or more interlocutors so as to preserve the illusion of a dialogue. Juliet, in the homonymous play, addresses her night visitor, Violeta in Centuries away from Alaska converses with the music that accompanies her confession, while Sebastian, in Fingers covered in grass addresses doctor Cukrowicz.
Another aspect in Dimou’s work is the relation of the imaginary world of his plays with contemporary reality. It is a mediated relation, since reality is presented slightly ‘distorted’, as seen through a lense that sometimes just twists its image, while in others it strongly distorts it. Even in his plays that have a more “conventional” structure and a more “photographic” intention, where it is quite clear that the characters and the situations refer to contemporary social reality, a detail interferes in order to undermine this realistic representation.
In some plays this detail refers to the imaginary or dreamlike element that shapes the way the characters view and project their surrounding reality to the others. We can’t “verify” if, finally, the three young men in Flowers for the Lady have a beautiful lady neighbour in the opposite balcony, or whether they have met her, similarly we cannot “verify” if Violet in has Centuries away from Alaska indeed met or not the doctor of her dreams. In some of his other plays, realism is undermined from the dominant dreamlike atmosphere, like for example, in the Night of Secrets, where Konstantinos and Miranda are captivated by the enchanting, bizarre atmosphere of the circus, or by some surrealistic detail like the mysterious and omnipresent Giouri in Tonight we dine at Jocasta's. In some cases the writer “blurs” the realistic representation by using meta-theatrical devices: the relations and the dialogue between the protagonists is a dialogue that takes place among the fictional characters of a play.
This kind of logic is clearly prevailing in A Light for Every Darkness, where the technique of play within a play is used, a technique used indirectly in other plays. Margarita, the character that travels from Dumas' novel to the theatrical world of Dimou, in Marguerite Gautier is Travelling Tonight, converses with her writer-creator, Alexander Dumas, with the ultimate aim to prepare as best as she can the last act of her role, her heroic “exit”.
However, the most important feature of Dimou’s work, which constitutes the core of his theatrical aesthetics, is his conversing with other texts.
Intertextuality, one of the main characteristics of contemporary stage writing, is a process which the writer, since his very first plays, skillfully handles. The way he develops his dialogue with the other texts differs from play to play: in some cases he focuses on one character and seeks from a different viewpoint to assign meaning to its adventure, as it happens with Juliet, in ...and Juliet, with Andromache in Andromache or a Woman Landscape at the Height of the Night, or Andreyevna in White Bread and Honey.
In other cases intertextual elements function indirectly and are brought forward as a detail that shades the play’s atmosphere. Dominic, in A Hands’ Teardrop with her personal story and presence in the Heila’s family mansion, recalls images from the adventure of other heroines: of the charming and mysterious Ysé, in the Break of Noon of Paul Claudel, and Eve Savvidis in the Ostrich Feathers of Andreas Staikos. Conversely he similarly refers to The Festival of Dimitris Kachaidis in his play The Water Heart. In many cases his conversing with the texts does not focus on the characters but on the prevailing feeling in the atmosphere of a historical period, as it happens in Withering Stains of Blood where the dramatic myth recreates the charged atmosphere found in the works of Christomanos or in the Tonight the Music reconstructing the atmosphere of the Interwar years poets.
A final distinctive feature of Dimou’s theatrical style concerns the way he handles comic elements in his plays. The writer, rendering them in a surrealistic manner, or attaching to them subtle ironic nuances, uses these comic elements in order to outline his characters and situations. The use of humour is what restrains his characters - especially in his early plays - and saves them from the trap of "embellished" lyricism and the burden of their emotions, while in his pure comedies humour allows him to mark out the "vulnerable" points of a contemporary social reality.
Doubtlessly, Dimou is one of the few young writers who feels comfortable within the comedy genre. The most successful example is the character of Jokasta Papadamou in Tonight we Dine at Jocasta's, a pop family story who possesses all the characteristics of a genuine comic heroine: the factor of exaggeration, the absence of emotional flexibility, the mechanical way that characterises her reactions and behaviour towards herself and the others. He also manages to present very successful portraits of all the family members of the house of Atreides in What a Fake Horror Story!... Oresteia the next generation. Not only does Dimou present Electra dressed as Astrapogiannos (a Greek hero fighting against the Ottoman rule), he also presents Aeschylus meeting theatre producer Theofylactos Besikiotis, turning his play into something of a dress rehearsal, where the mythical characters attempt their best to "act" and adapt their role (and all the stereotypes that have been accompanying it for centuries) to the spirit of such a subversive comedy. Using the same loud and corrosive humour in Othon and Pothula he travels through the history of Modern Greek state by following the adventures of Othonas Molohanthis family.
The leading characters of Dimou's theatrical world fight to "cohabitate" with their emotions and desires and so face what they perceive as reality. In their effort to map their emotions, they flirt with words and move back and forth from the present to the past, attempting to verify the birth, the traps or the end of an emotion. In some of the plays the characters get carried away by the allure of lyricism, which at the same time they self-ironically undermine, in others they adopt a more unembellished speech and embark in endless discussions. In his most recent plays speech either copies the discourse rules of sms, or follows the rhythm and musicality of words and phrases, since the characters use lyrics to talk with each other.
The writer presents us with images from contemporary reality and with texts to which this reality "refers": plays, poems, films, mythical characters, traditions, and songs. He draws the fictional world of his plays as an able draftsman or chooses the technique of surrealistic collage, using as such a variety of diverse materials. His photographic snapshots from contemporary social landscape blend with images and texts from older periods with vivid colours and familiar music composing the palimpsest of contemporary cultural landscape.
Dimou reminds us of his heroine Andromache, who while trying to find the words in order to narrate us her life adventure, paints and repaints images from her memory "scattering the seasons, and dissolving the years in other years".
 Andromache or a Woman Landscape at the Height of the Night, in Akis Dimou, Complete Works, Vol. 1, Athens: Aigokeros, p. 257.