ANDREAS STAIKOS' THEATRE,
- Elsa Andrianou, Dramaturg
The light theatricality as recreational anguish
Andreas Staikos’ work echoes as a very personal, special and somewhat unfamiliar voice in the landscape of modern Greek playwriting. He is completely free from the burden of the theatrical registering of Greek society, but someone who, as a true cosmopolitan, exploits is without hesitation, without wavering in the face of any historical or cultural "desecration". Even in the instances where the context of a play points to the origins (e.g. 1843, Napoleontia) of modern Greek history, it acts as a theatrical scenery and not as a resonance of historical reality.
The central key to Staikos’ dramaturgy and the core of his quest is not reality but theatricality, even from his first work, Daedalus, where a bloody love triangle is established as perpetually recurring, through the repetition of the conditions of the rehearsal or the theatrical performance; the act remains relevant while in the meantime is canceled through its repetition and is disrupted in order to resume: "We’re done for tonight. Tomorrow again".
In the same context, the changing roles remains; a strong reference to the theatrical mode since the relationship between people is defined by their ability to exit the role and resume another. On the other hand, this changing is a thematic axis that exploits the playfulness of the existential dimension and evokes an almost "Beckettian" universe. It is precisely this interchangeability that enables a powerful comment – semantic rather than sociological – regarding the specification of any being from this position of power. The game – whether theatrical or primordial, like that of children – constitutes a kind of freedom that defines power relations while, at the same time, liberates them from their shape to such an extent that the personas exchange roles with unparalleled ease:
ARANEA: Are you bored to be the one that all men desire and all women are jealous of?
G. SIGGALINA: Today I want to become Aranea and you to become Siggalina. I want to play. I want that.
ARANEA: Yes, I want to play too.
(Olympia’s Little Finger)
Generally, the characters in Staikos’ work are substitutable, either in the context of a stated theatricality as defined by metatheatricality, rehearsal or audition (like the process of spousal selection in Alcestis and Sweet Dreams), or when indicated by a perpetually underlying liquidity. These characters are not specifically defined, but are identified by external parameters; just like in the theater, the verification of an object can be a rough, albeit absolute, identification of character. So, in Kapnokrator, Lela is not Lela, but the one carrying cigarettes - one of Staikos’ favorite objects, fetishistic and paltry: "Persephone, the lady has cigarettes, and whoever has cigarettes is Lela. Like me; what was I when I had cigarettes? I was Lela”.
Cigarettes, heels, red nails and pants - a variety of fetishistic objects, stereotyped or not – act as substitutes of more serious stakes in Staikos’ universe, such as human relations, memory and, ultimately, the meaning of life. Meanwhile, the “underground” - or accidental - living is responsible not only for the classic theater’s extreme theatricality - one that the author knows in depth but constantly reverses and often parodies - but also for the agony of human desolation. In Staikos’ theatre the object is much more important than the character and, in certain cases, the character itself finds its importance as an object. So, the expected lover will come transformed into a fur coat:
SOURNOUAZ: (...) To transform the one I’ll love, when he is deeply asleep, into a little fox; to always wear him on my shoulders.
Her Highness: Sournouaz, Sournouaz. Will you, from time to time, in the large banquets, let me throw your fur on my shoulders! (...)
Every one of Staikos’ characters is a reflection, not of the author, but of the artistic being as grasping fragments of the human. Faces – façades, elusive spectra or effigies; they neither conceal nor symbolize anything; they are whatever their constant mutation indicates. So, the “Her Highness” in Karakoroum strongly defends the absence of any internal cohesion: "So you have loved. You know what I mean; you loved my effigy, one of the countless copies, the commercial side of me. The truth is that there is no other side. "
Intertextuality becomes involved in a game of fluidity, since a direct reference to the author's fellow artists destroys the illusion that the current play is given meaning in dialogue with older texts. Curtain is built upon the on-stage dialogue between "roles": Elizabeth is depicted as a theatrical mask of Sissy – herself a creation of Christomanos; she is nothing more than a role, just as the protagonist, Eimarmeni (Fate) is also a role - it doesn’t constitute a dramatization attempt of Eimarmeni Xanthaki - while Konstantinos is Christomanos' role and he himself is the timeless director, a creation of his own creations. The references – although grounded – do not promise a coherent meaning, since they are instantaneously overturned: "Ibsen, Euripides… it’s the same thing”. The desired is persistently elusive and perpetually "acted".
The theater, the most corporeal, the most physical and transient art cancels the body in a way similar to the ephemeral life; a life that can only be grasped in relation to death and is thereby defined.
P. ARGYROPOULOS: Life, Mando. That’s life. Taking you back and forth.
MANTO: What you mean is that death is such.
Life is "directed" as a blatant falsehood, constantly and indiscriminately alternating with death, to such an extent that death is conceivable only as theatre (1843) and the hero lays a wreath in his own statue. (Kapnokrator)
In a game of multiple fragmentary mirrors, Staikos records the myth within the myth, granted with the reduction of life to a ceremony, namely theater. Staikos’ characters do not suffer due to their existence but due to the theater; they exist because of it and also suffer from it:
BELLA: I am not sure, but I can sense it. A very wicked illness is coming my way, the most wicked one (...)
MAROYSA: And does this illness have a name?
BELLA: It hurts, but you like it, and the more you suffer, the more you want. (…) You suffer from this illness when you're not yourself (...)
MAROYSA: Bella, what you're talking about? I suffer from this illness since I was a little girl (...)
(Apple de Milo)
The “eternal female", which persistently returns in Staikos’ dramaturgy, is merely a persona that pretends and changes names, while its true nature remains indefinable.
The language of this kind of theater entraps; it is both scholarly and vulgar, subversive and subverted. It constantly surprises, is indifferent to any plausibility and directed against the fluid "characters". This verbal acrobatics constitutes the mask of disguise, through which alone can the entities in Staikos’ work exist, where the language acts rather than signifies and, at the same time, entertains. The author shamelessly plays with theatrical types and language genres; he deifies and repeals them, creating a mosaic that aims to reconstitute the theatrum mundi as something unfulfilled, but also the only real thing.
Staikos’ work is the dynamic experimentation of writing or its implementation at rehearsal. The fluidity imposed by the testing of several versions of a story, already seen in Clytemnestra, constitute the only possible certainty, fortifying the author's favorite practice to continue writing throughout the rehearsals, delivering as final theatrical text the open possibility of on-stage implementation.
Staikos’ dramaturgy, elaborately elegant, insidiously light and deceptively entertaining is torn apart by the brutal agony of establishing a mode – even a theatrical one – of existence.
[Translation: Elena Delliou]