THANASIS TRIARIDIS' THEATRE,
- Tonia Karaoglou, Dramaturg - Theatre critic
[Translation: Elena Delliou]
There are things in people’s minds... dreams, fantasies, monsters… And then, there is reality. Truth. Whatever is going on around us. On the one hand there is the mental reality, and on the other the perceptible one. In between these two kinds of realities, there is an impermeable wall. According some, this wall protects us from the madness... from the monsters of our mind. According to others, it keeps us enslaved. Some say, however, that there is a door in the wall… an invisible door that only a few can locate.
It is this invisible door that Thanasis Triaridis’ plays attempt to open; twelve in number, and written over a period of four years (2010-2014). The writer himself describes them as narratives intended for reading, questioning their theatricality. And he has a point; his are largely intellectual plays, which incessantly pose questions without providing any answers, which require from the spectator/reader to remain engaged and mentally alert, and which constantly put obstacles in the way of any potential director, as far as both the acting and the stage practice are concerned.
The author follows the same writing “rule” in all his plays; he creates two-act, two-character plays – the one-act play Lebensraum, which involves two characters and some never seen but vocally present spectators, is the single exception. The two characters in his plays are often – but not always – a man and a woman. Their names are denoted with only an initial letter, and this is not random: the issue of identity runs through every one of Triaridis’ works, appearing fluid, unformulated and sought after; a product of exchange or fabrication. And this is not the only one; other thematic motifs are persistent in his work and, since several of them are on the verge of what is morally acceptable, require a constant transcendence of boundaries: The existential anguish and the search for meaning. The invention of a life narrative and/or a self. The relationship between/battle of the sexes. The bond and bondages of family. Love – often in its most extreme form, such as incestuous relationships and ones formed between dominant figures and subordinates. Death – often mutual – as a means of total union ("Murder is the only worthy end of love" we read in Sharks, "Love is to love your slayer. To feel murder as a union ..." in Égalité). Rebirth, redemption from the anguish of life, of family relationships, of the weight of humanity or the emptiness of the self through an – often prohibited – erotic-sensual relationship or through death ("Everything we live is a dream in death, and death is the real life” we read in Humlet). The battle between conscious and unconscious, between logic and instinct. The manipulation of the individual and the challenging of his limits through either submission/subjugation, or the spread of fear. Memory as a prerequisite of identity, but also as nightmare; the memory also becomes the focus of a series of plays that, on one level, relate to Nazism, the Holocaust and the lab experiments of Josef Mengele (Mengele, Zyclon, Zoot, Lebensraum). "Unfortunately, if you think about it, all of us have Mengele as our father...”, we read in Zoot.
The above topics are primarily developed through the creation of "stories" (otherwise: "assumptions") in various versions that constantly alternate and are overturned, and through the dramatic characters’ adoption of roles; the continuous alternation, the conflict and questioning of both truth and lie ("They are not exactly lies, they are variations of the truth” is characteristically stated in Liberté), but also the unclear boundaries between self and role, are a set mental game in Triaridis’ dramaturgy. The reality of the dramatic circumstance is sometimes clarified for the reader and sometimes not, thus increasing the difficulty for the understanding of the play and the directorial work. At times, the end remains open, leaving the decision regarding the final outcome to the reader/director. Occasionally, the plots of the plays are improbable, disregarding plausibility; extreme – unnatural, on the verge of science fiction or "stretched" – conditions make the dramatic cloak of all the above.
Overall, Triaridis’ plays seem to involve two players who, whether fanatically or reluctantly, whether believing or pretending to believe, participate in a fabricated – not always by both – and fierce game. It is characteristic, for example, that the first scenes in Sharks and Lacrimosa are presented in rehearsal conditions. Indeed, in certain cases the game is even indicated as such; a reality show or a peculiar roller coaster, as in Égalité (“The Game is something like a second birth. Like being born again from the belly of your mother") and in Zyclon; a ceremony or experiment, as in Lacrimosa and Lebensraum. The two players hang desperately from their devised role/self, although they reject it with disgust and refuse to abandon the fabricated circumstance, which will eventually record as real experience, as it functions as a safety net, a vital lie – even if it is painful and is related to their extinction. Lebensraum somewhat diverges from the rule, not because its thematic is radically different, but because the interest is shifted to the issue of the collective responsibility in the face of the individual’s manipulation.
The common problematic and the homogeneous writing style that characterize Triaridis’ dramaturgy do not prevent the formation of internal 'sub-groups', like his first three works (Sharks, Ants, Mengele) which could constitute a trilogy. In these plays, a man and a woman are involved in a jointly agreed-upon situation, that can either be an "innocent" game between strangers, a psychoanalytic medium of treatment between spouses, or a role-playing game of paid sex; in caging conditions, whether real or invented – a train wagon, the middle of the ocean, tied up on a bed –, or through a role-playing game – namely, one with adopted identities –, the characters engage in a fierce game of (self-)defining, imposition, strife and search for love– and redemption through the latter.
The next three plays, borrow their titles from the motto of the French Revolution "Freedom-Equality-Fraternity» (Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité). In their dramatic microscope they place the family, through a psychoanalytic approach of the parent-children, mother-son and father-daughter relationships, but also the ones that develop between brothers; here, the pattern of incestuous relations dominates as the principal act of union, culminating in the redemption brought by death. These are themes that along with the – of equal psychoanalytic concern – motif of infanticide, are also being dealt with in his next three plays (Humlet, Zoot, Oedinous), and his last one, Lacrimosa or the unbecoming.
The stage language that Triaridis creates, which obviously draws from Sarah Kein, Strindberg, Pinter, the absurd and existentialism, succeeds in fashioning a very distinct personal style, which often brings the reader/spectator in an awkward position. His unique authorial stamp is also characterized by the multitude of intertextual references that run through his plays. These come mainly from the Bible, the great classics (ancient Greek tragedy and Shakespeare), Kafka (Samsa, the name of the hero in Metamorphosis is not randomly employed as the keyword for the exit from devised circumstances in Sharks and Zyclon), philosophy (Kant and Nietzsche) and of course from Freud and the science of psychoanalysis. This intertextuality – already evident from the wordplay in the titles – is apparent, although in a somewhat peculiar way, in Humlet, which talks about the intensity of the need to verify our personal ghosts, and culminates in Oedinous, a play by Oedipus and about “Oedipus” and the Oedipus complex. (Here, Triaridis uses the "rule" of the two roles cleverly, handing out three roles in two persons; this, of course, is not random. What is happening with L[aios?], J[okasta?] and their “family” ? Is L. really impersonating both son and father, or is he the spouse who pretends to be the dead son, in a fixed – erotic – game?)
The contact with Triaridis’ dramaturgy draws a wide range of emotions – from intense interest to instinctive rejection – but definitely not that of indifference. The thematic of his plays, the crudeness of his language which often breaks from the emotional power of a song or musical motif, the catalytic role of music that permeates the plays like an organic tool -sometimes itself sparking the action –, the scenic atmosphere that unfolds in alternations of ample light and total darkness – literally and figuratively, and, finally, the action of playwriting itself as a distorting mirror that reflects the most hidden aspects of our unacknowledged guilt, all make up a mixed experience which at the same time is both mentally complicated and directly experiential.