Change’s momentum and intensity. A note on the dramaturgy of Manolis Tsipos.
[Translation: Elena Delliou]
The work of the dramatist, artist and director Manolis Tsipos is permeated by an ironic melancholy for the aesthetic and spiritual achievements of the European tradition. The playwright, however, never endorses uncritically the postmodern disappointment with everything presented in the traditional form. From as early as Habemus Papam, Walter (2007), one of his first works, a basic principle that underlies Tsipos’ dramaturgy is noticed: his discourse does not aim at the rejection of the traditional patterns and aesthetics, but at something extremely difficult and ideologically more productive; their reconfiguration. In addition, Tsipos does not converse with the established Modern Greek tradition (perhaps because they have nothing to say), but is validated through a dialectic association with the great European literature (not necessarily with a mood for positive contemplation). For example, in his 2012 play Chrysippus, A Contemporary European Tragedy, rape is projected in the history of Europe as a given, recurring in a teleological way; this enables the creator to interpret German Romanticism’s radical anticlassicism and, hence, the obsession with Greece, even when it pertains to the essence of the German spirit itself. Visiting the Acropolis Hill, where a Monument for Romanticism is now being erected in Parthenon’s place, a German tourist comments:
Germany once yearned for Greece. No, no. It was not only desire, it was an obsession. Germany was once obsessed with Greece. Germany was Greece’s lover. This love, this obsession, this desire created a debt that is due today. […] Love is the power of an ambiguous violence that we relish. When we separate, we share, apart from memories, the dark feeling that we once penetrated and were penetrated by someone else. This mutual penetration repays, on our behalf, the great continuity in life. Europe is something beautiful that is changing. Europe is a history of rape.
2. Contemporary theatrical texts often transcend the boundaries between literary genres, deconstructing the – already shaken by the Theatre of the Absurd – classic dramatic form. The hybridity of the texts and the repudiation of dialogic form are, naturally, associated with a contemporary “disintegration of ideological certainties” which, as far as the theatre is concerned, resulted in the radical reconceptualization of the concept of the dramatic persona, in a dramaturgy that is a symptom of the real world.
Still Life, the French premiere of which was at the Festival d' Avignon (July 2014), is the work of a dramatist who, much like a visual artist, approaches the stories as landscapes. The play partly follows the metatheatrical aesthetics of Heiner Müller’s Description of a Picture (1984), but is also a prophetic rhapsody before the imminent Revelation of the glorious city. Although there are no distinctive characters in the play, Still Life features a traditionally culminating (exclusively climaxing) "action", evident in the treatises of anonymous voices/citizens/protesters and accompanied by eschatological descriptions of still lives, in the form of choral episodes. Although ostensibly anti-dramatic, these descriptions do not disrupt the dramatic continuum, because not only do they intensify the already dominant lyricism, but every still life is a talking person who conceptually complements the verbal landscape.
The play unfolds in an unspecified time (timelessness) during which an unnamed city (every city) and its citizens are under a violent military attack by an unknown enemy. The topography of the city is violated, and so are its citizens; however, the love for the city and the enslavement trigger the revolt of those under occupation. Although one can find the similarities with contemporary Athens, the play should not be seen as historic. Still Life is a Lehrstück (didactic play) about the disturbance of quiescent regularity. It is a prophetic vision for the future of every occupied city, a hymn for the end of Europe's sleep. It is, strangely enough, a naturalistic documentary from the future.
3. The “abstractization” of reality and the characters along with the unspecified time advocate for the separation of the plays from their historical contexts, demonstrating that the dramatic text is no longer an aesthetically consistent category, but one that acts as a "coding of reality". In the award-winning play Sabine X. (2009) – that has the true story of a German child murderer as a starting point – the imperceptible motives of the actual action are dramaturgically stabilized in successive anti-hymns about motherhood and the feminine anguish, in a world unfamiliar and hostile to women. This irony, thymically and ideologically reconfigured, is currently an elemental characteristic of the European playwriting with which Tsipos converses, transforming the irony in a poetic melancholy for the refuted spiritual achievements of the humanistic West. Sabine X. is not a modern Medea, not only because it is not possible for the terms of the Euripidean heroine’s tragicalness to apply in the modern world, but because, as noted by Heiner Müller in his last stage directive, the ancient ex machina wonders are not functionally valid:
The Sun's charred chariot falls and crashes onstage, still in flames.
PS. For many decades, the Modern Greek dramaturgy was tormented by an old-fashioned ethnography, supposedly preoccupied with major social problems, while in reality only reproducing stereotypes and popular ideologies. Meanwhile, critics were praising the Modern Greek achievements of a kind of realism that reaffirmed the world, thus blessing the same spiritual fixations. Many were those who fought against the massive sewer of rejection. Some were vindicated late. Others died in derision.
May the future belong to new voices.