STELLAS MICHAILIDOU'S THEATRE,
- Asterios Tsiaras, Assistant Professor Department of Theatre Studies University of Peloponnese
Stella Michailidou is part of a generation of modern playwrights that write for children. Aesthetic integrity, appealing dramatic structure, educational focus and textual theatricality are prevalent in her plays, which are characterized by puns, rhymes, originality, fantasy and imagination. Through humor and sensitivity, her plays promote values such as peace, freedom of expression, friendship, solidarity, love, mutual aid and respect, but also the right to diversity, to beauty and art. Four representative plays were selected to attempt a conceptual and aesthetic assessment of her dramaturgy: Ro’s Dream, Tzitzimitzihotziria, Walking in the Forest, Menios, the Spoiled Donkey.
Analysis of the Plays
Ro’s Dream consists of eight scenes, in which the following appear as characters: The letters of the alphabet, two evil diacritics (Rough breathing and Smooth breathing), the grim, the postman, Ro’s shadow, the hare, the tortoise, the letter-eater, the letters of the past and the grandmother.
The content of the play focuses on a Greek letter’s – “Ro” – selfishness. This letter of the alphabet, unwittingly infiltrated by the magic potion of egotism, starts displaying tendencies for leadership, disrupting the alphabet’s unity and affecting other letters with its attitude. The ill-natured Grim – that aims to the destruction of the alphabet and the elimination of people’s knowledge – also gets involved in the case. The Grim attempts to take Ro’s place in the alphabet, misleading the hare and the tortoise into leading it among the other alphabet letters. Fortunately, the malicious plan of Ro’s bitter enemies (Rough and Smooth breathing, Grim and letter-eater) is unsuccessful and, due to several subsequent failed attempts, the unity of the alphabet letters is preserved. Love and cooperation prevail in the end; evil is eliminated and good is restored.
The central meaning of the play focuses on the point where ambition, selfishness, arrogance and fear guide people’s behavior, negatively affecting the others’ psychology and depriving them of everything good that arises from collaboration, mutual understanding and love.
Tzitzimitzihotziria, which consists of seven scenes, focuses on the community of the ants and draws from The Ant and the Grasshopper – Aesop’s well-known fable. More specifically, the ants of the school at the Ant city ask Cicada, their wise teacher, to tell them the story of an exceptional ant named Stavros. Even though Stavros daily stores the necessary provisions for the difficult winter days, he is not at all like the other serious ants that only gather seeds. Every so often, he is distracted by a colorful glass, a shell, or the colors of the rainbow. Stavros’ diversity is met with hostility by the other ants; only Ram Pim – his little friend –, Cicada and the butterfly understand and support him. The adult ants reprimand him, require his compliance and eventually imprison him, in an effort to exorcise the evil spirit. An unexpected disaster – a flood – destroys the Ant city and results in Stavros’ release by Ram Pim, Cicada and the butterfly. In the end, everyone realizes the value of the beautiful things about which Stavros often spoke. This play highlights collaboration, mutual assistance, friendship, love, the importance of finding beauty in simple things, and every person’s right to diversity.
Walking in the Forest is a play in seven scenes in which a total of seventeen characters appear, and its content draws on several classic fairy tales (Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Snow White, Tom Thumb, and others); through the combination and blending of contents and roles, Little Red Riding Hood’s – the main character’s – adventurous path of is formed: She sets off for her odyssey as Cinderella, suffering from her three evil sisters. To escape from the abuse she flees, leaving behind crumbs to mark her way, but Tom Thumb eats the crumbs. Exhausted, Little Red Riding Hood falls asleep, unaware of the fact that an Evil Queen – whose magic mirror puts her second in beauty – is hatching a malicious plan to destroy her. Despite the Evil Queen’s attempts to trick Little Red Riding Hood into eating the poisonous apple, the latter manages to avoid the trap. Along her way, Little Red Riding Hood meets a frog who, in order to steal a kiss from her, deceives her by telling her that he is a prince turned into a frog, and will help her find her lost hood. Alone and worn out, she decides to light a fire, but gets arrested and imprisoned by three Rangers. Thankfully, her grandmother happens to be passing by the prison and sets her free, using a magic spell to unlock the prison’s door. However, instead of finally feeling safe due to this unexpected meeting, her grandmother does not recognize Little Red Riding Hood because she is not wearing her hood. Towards the end of the play, the protagonist meets the Wolf and reveals to him where her grandmother lives; the end of the play agrees with that of the classic tale. This play gives prominence to the ideas of love, self-confidence and personal empowerment. The obstacles, the suffering and the dangers that Little Red Riding Hood faces in her effort to find her way through the woods correspond to every child’s fears, inhibitions and prejudices, as he tries to learn about himself and the other people, and socially adapt to the adult world.
Menios, the Spoiled Donkey is a humorous tale written in verse, with a donkey – Menios – and his mother – Filio - as the main characters. More specifically, Menios is a much pampered donkey, raised in the wrong way by a mother that loves him unconditionally and forgives his every slip. Moreover, she offers him every comfort in life and cares for his educational and musical training. Due to this behavior, Menios gradually becomes isolated and truant, noticeably self-centered and smug. His behavior aggravates once he reaches adolescence, and his mother suffers from his violent bursts. Fulfilling Menios’ wish to see the world, Filio leaves her job, sells her belongings and follows him to many European countries and to America. As time passes, the mother’s money vanish and they return home poor, with Menios being all grown up and his mother old and weary. Filio urges her son to mature get married, and Menios himself starts worrying, now realizing his own and his mother’s past mistakes. In this difficult situation, his fairy godmother comes to his aid; she encourages Menios in his sleep and urges him to go try his luck in London. There, he becomes aware of his desperate situation and, under the fairy’s guidance, travels to Singapore to become a gardener. His mother, content at last with her son’s passage to adulthood, makes the most of her free time and lives the rest of her life creatively. The meaning of the play focuses on the other side of motherly love – the personal isolation – and every child’s battle for social recognition and the accomplishment of his personal ambitions.
In her plays, Stella Michailidou refrains from direct moral didacticism, and any important ideas and messages that aim to make the young spectators think emerge from the dialogue. The playwright employs the key structural elements that govern children’s plays; each play’s story and plot is developed in a comprehensive way, depicting the protagonist’s struggle to achieve his objective and his competitors’ attempts to prevent him. The scenes alternate between opposing dipoles of tension and relaxation, enthusiasm and serenity, physical action and discourse. So far as the conceptual content and the scene connection is concerned, no alien material is introduced, nor is any external power employed to relieve the protagonist of his dilemma. After every scene’s end, questions are left unanswered for the young spectators, and the curtain falls at a point where the ending is dubious. The introduction of secondary plots in every scene – ones closely related to the main storyline (Aristotelian dramatic structure) – contributes in a decisive way to the play’s development towards its climax, as well as to the resolution of the protagonist’s internal conflict.
To conclude, it must be noted that the frequent use of verse poetry in many of her plays gives a special rhythm – a necessary component for the successful integration of the dramatic dialogues, for the physical action, the characters’ interaction and the correlation of the scenes.
[Translation: Anastasia Mandeki] [Translation edited by Elena Delliou]