DIMITRIS DIMITRIADIS' THEATRE,
- Angeliki Poulou, Dramaturg
Translation: Elena Delliou
In 2009, Giorgio Barberio Corsetti directed Howard Barker's Gertrude (Le Cri) – a rewriting of Shakespeare’s Hamlet – at the Odéon Theatre in Paris. Two years later, he returned to that same theatre to stage Dimitris Dimitriadis’ The Circle of the Square. Not a coincidence.
Barker describes his theatre as a "theatre of catastrophe", concerning mostly “those who suffer the maiming of the imagination (...) the offended. It has no dialogue with those who (...) proclaim clarity and responsibility. (...) Those who dream theatre tells the truth”. Dimitriadis also writes a “Theatre of Catastrophe”, as a modern version of tragedy; for the playwright, the tragic and the dramatic do not coincide. The tragic, for him, lies in the essence of the human condition: “I would place the dramatic in the plot and the on/off stage action, and the tragic in the essence of conception or worldview; the outlook one has, his view regarding… let's not use big words... the human, life, the world, and so on. Thus, tragedy is the essence of human nature, of reality, and drama is its dramatization... what I say is not a tautology....I speak about the dramatization of the tragic". Tragedy, according to Barker, "is not humanist and intends no good to man. But intending no good to him, it enhances him. That is its mystery and precisely its power.
Dimitriadis’ work is not reassuring or confessional; it resembles a tragedy that recounts the various manifestations of the human race’s failure and despair, in such a way that the stage becomes a place of philosophical reflection. At the heart of his theatre lies existence and everything that defines it: family, tradition, history, love, despair.
Characters are presented in non-psychological terms, body and reason, highly elaborate linguistic style, the tragic and the comic. Geometry: form and abstraction, the coldness of speech and warmth of the body. Abstract stage action, allegorical and iterative. "The true blood of things lies in the depth of the words", writes Valère Novarina, a view that Dimitriadis embraces with his concentrated, vivid, elaborate and poetic speech; he creates a highly aesthetic theatre of words.
At the heart of his work one finds concepts such as family, country, nation and history; the playwright incessantly explores our [human’s] own relationship with them and attempts to define us and our place within history, meanwhile seeking reflection and critique. He touches upon issues with severity; he is not indulgent, but drives them to their limits. Somewhat so, in 1976 Dimitriadis gave us the famed Dying as a Country, a work about the physical and spiritual death of a country, about the death of every human value and, eventually, the death of man himself. We cannot hope for a better future when, in this barren country, women cannot have children.
Similarly, The Beginning of Life reveals Hellenism’s fragmented identity. The fall of Constantinople is used as motif, while Konstantinos Palaiologos is one of the main characters.
Philosophically, it would be particularly interesting to underline the distance that exists between Dimitriadis and the post-modern project – at least insofar as the quest for historicity is concerned: Where are we? At what point of our evolution as a species and a civilization? The playwright is interested in man’s placement in the historical process: his heroes are not uprooted; they belong somewhere, carrying with them and defined within a historical context. The creator is preoccupied with reflection, rejection, criticism, with the denouncement of everything that has been done and of everything the Greek society brings with it, of the “heroic and glorious” past; not to reduce their value, neither to reject them as irrelevant but, instead, to build a new relationship with them.
Dimitriadis is interested in the substance, the meaning and, certainly, the human condition – one that can be perceived through love. In The Circle of the Square, four love stories – the most mundane but also the fieriest ones – succeed one another in a perfectly linear way. Mrs. Green goes back to Mr. Green after having left him, while Mr. and Mrs. Blue – an otherwise perfect couple – consult Black in order to solve their only problem. Mrs. Green confesses to her husband that she is in love with his best friend, while Mr. Yellow and Mr. Red feel annoyed by Mr. Blue’s declaration of love to both of them. In The Stunning of Animals before the Slaughter, love and eros are reversed, and the family is destroyed from within. Love is wounded, tainted; desire turns into possessiveness and the erotic passion into desperation, into nightmare, into torment. In The Circle of the Square, much like in Chrysippus, cannibalism recurs again and again, each time in a different way; the urge to consume the other in order to ensure absolute control over him. Eros and Thanatos.
In Chrysippus, the protagonist and driving force of the action is Chryssipus; a mythological figure, a character from Euripides’ lost play of the same name. Pelopas’ son, Chrysippus, was abducted by Laios who fell in love with him due to his stunning beauty and dazzling presence. Dimitriadis’ Chrysippus manipulates and charms everyone around him; behind his beautiful looks lies only darkness.
In his acclaimed essay “The Culture of Narcissism”, Christopher Lach observes that his contemporary authors indulge in a confessional mode of writing, either retelling or simply reflecting their everyday, insignificant, crazy experiences – a fact that they emphasize to the reader. Moreover, they often relinquish the authorial persona and write in the first person in order to comment on and mock what they write in real time. It is a writing that moves between unrefined biography and banter, and an attitude that accrues not from a certain humility, but from the opposite; the respective writer puts himself in the spotlight and magnifies the personal experience, designating it as a sufficient reason to be widely read by the readership.
Dimitriadis’ stories are not shut in themselves, nor in a microcosm; they explore the range of our nature, the human: love, obedience, imposition, cannibalism, betrayal, as well as the dead-end, self-destructive family/erotic/interpersonal relationships.
More often than not, his heroes are common people; they sometimes have a mythological identity – as they are taken from myths – while other times they simply bear the name of their sex – "male", "female" –, of a capacity – "mother", "father", as in Chrysippus – or of a color – as in The Circle and the Square. Even when they bear a specific name, however, it does not come with many details; rather, it only sets the historical context.
The characters of his plays are neither radiant nor cheerful; they carry burdens. Dimitriadis seems to argue that we are not happy – never were, never will be –, that we will always keep seeking. Ithaca, however, does not exist; in Homeriad he inverts the myth, perceiving the desire to return as a destructive force; "I killed him [Odysseus]", states Dimitriadis’ Ithaca.
The playwright raises question about society and the human nature. He opposes stereotypes and presents taboo subjects (the mother's erotic and possessive love for the son, same-sex love, love triangles, patricide, and other). In his plays, there is always an underlying crisis that has to – somehow – be resolved; the solution often comes through violence, and the decay is gradually revealed. That is the reason one could say that Dimitriadis’ audience is the “elite of curiosity”; an elite who seeks the “otherness” and constantly ponders over the darkness and the gray areas.
In his own words: “Otherness can never be conquered. If mastered, it becomes an identity and is self-negated. If, at a certain time, one decides to transcend identity, that era should be proclaimed not one of otherness, but of the quest for it. Otherness becomes a desired albeit unattainable goal; it is in a perpetual movement, much like the object of a sexual attraction that is never allowed to be fulfilled. Only an eternally shifting otherness, like an unreachable object of desire, is capable of causing these everlasting attempts to approach, remaining itself unchangeable and inexhaustible, and, thus, ever so seductive. Thereby, the Other [thing] and the Other [person] are perpetuated without being altered”.
Like Barker and Valerina, Dimitriadis is not preoccupied with the trivial, the everyday, the “boring”. (An otherwise legitimate trend in certain previous historical periods, which was a reaction to the large, exclusive systems that ignored the individual). Rather an opening of the frame is required nowadays, lest the modern Narcissus ceases to stare mesmerized at his on-screen reflections, and the narrow “river” of his subjective, finite world. It is as if through his theatre, Dimitriadis is making an attempt to redefine things, to reflect the contemporary meaning of concepts like "birth", "family" and "mother". He gives us the tools to look at the human condition. He writes about the human race; far from elevating it, he exposes with remarkable intensity all its monstrous and desperate instincts and for any possible reboot and regeneration. And the adventure of the human condition continues. Forever and ever. Amen.
 Howard Barker, “The audience, the soul and the stage”. Arguments for a theater. Manchester: Manchester UP., 1998. 69-70.
 Dimitris Dimitriadis. “The Poet and the Stage”. Interview to Dimitra Kondilaki. Orleans National Scene. March 2006.
 Howard Barker, “The House of Infection: Theater in the Age of Social Hygiene”, Arguments for a theater. Manchester: Manchester UP., 1998. 186.