DIMITRIS SEITANIS’ THEATRE,
- Eugenia Somara, Theatre Researcher - Theatre Studies M.phil.
From Fairytale Drama to the Need of Accepting the Other
[Translation: Elena Delliou]
Dimitris Seitanis is an acclaimed actor, director and playwright. He has worked many years for theatre that appeals to children and young adults, and has also created the "Youth Theatre", a theatrical space exclusively dedicated to them. He has extensive experience in this difficult theatre genre and - apart from adapting and directing dozens of plays written by various authors - he has also provided his own writing samples. Paramythiada and If you… were me! – his original plays – are very well-made plays and reveal the degree to which Seitanis has pored over what a good theatre for children and young adults consists of.
Paramythiada is an epic drama - the title being reminiscent of Homer’s Iliad – which presents the wondrous adventures and stories of heroes, using fairytales as a key characteristic. Following a specific morphology that is common in fairytales, as Vladimir Propp indicates (Propp, 2009), Seitanis employs the basic narrative functions and patterns of classic fairytales, creating a fairytale drama with many protagonists, continuous adventures, plot twists and risks for the main characters of the play, who eventually manage to survive all the difficulties and overcome evil. The common element of both fairytales and plays for children is the victory of good over evil; Paramythiada is based in this 'good-evil' dipole and its main hero - the Assistant Storyteller - is subjected to continuous trials, which he overcomes with courage and intelligence. He comes face to face with evil but manages to get past all the difficulties and help his friends, the elves. In the end, the virtuous hero is rewarded and evil is eliminated.
The narrative of the play follows the classic pattern of fairytales: 1. happiness is disrupted, 2. hero has to overcome obstacles, 3. happy ending. Two little elves accompany their friend Pundit who tells them a tale. Engrossed in the story, they leave behind the Land of the Elves and accidentally find themselves in the Land of Fairytales, a forbidden place where they are chased by the terrible ‘Paraorites’. Pundit and other friends of the little elves get entangled in this adventure: Pundit is accidentally left behind outside the entrance of the Land of Fairytales; he will forever remain “frozen”, unless a storyteller enters the land, tells Jovial a tale she likes and agrees to kiss Pundit.
The main characters of the play are creatures strange and unheard of: little elves (Aftouklis, Fotistiris, Klothogyristras and Pundit), the Paraorites who chase them (a Humpback, Dragons, a Dragon-swallow), various gnomes and pixies (Spitzirem), a vixen and the Jovial. There are also potions, magical appearances and disappearances and everything that a fairytale might contain.
The most important element of the play is the development of the play’s plot, with the constant use of twists that creates small and numerous adventures for the heroes. Small steps lead to the hero’s final victory with mathematical precision.
The use of the language is also interesting; new, bizarre and comical words are employed or created to describe the heroes, the story, the scenic space and the atmosphere we are subjected to. Seitanis proves to be a wordsmith (manieur de mots); he creates composite words to comically – albeit accurately – describe events and situations in his play (‘λαχταροτρεχάλα’/cravescamper,‘αποφιλιοχαιρετίσουμε’/goodbyekisssalute, etc.).
It should also be noted that the playwright uses the "play within the play" technique (théâtre dans le théâtre). The author couples the fairytale element with the realism of the theatre stage, without degrading the imaginary element which is prevalent in the play: the theatre exists between the Land of Fairytales and the Land of the Humans, with the on-stage magic being realized by the electricians, lighting and sound technicians. At the end of the play, everything is revealed to be a dream, a vivid tale: ‘Trimmatos’ is transformed into the ‘Assistant Storyteller’, himself becoming ‘Pundit’ and ‘Pundit’ turning into the real ‘Storyteller’. Notwithstanding the constant references to the realistic world of theatre, it is the play’s illusory atmosphere, which travels the audience to the fairytale world of Paramythiada.
If you… were me!, Seitanis’ second play, is diametrically opposite the first one, although it has the same theatrical accuracy and eloquence. His first play allowed us to escape in a fairytale world; his second makes us face situations in our own lives. If you… were me! deals with the relationship between the sexes in both children and adults and, although it may sound somewhat "academic", it is a play concerning the reality that every family experiences, presented in an unconventional way.
The main characters of the play are eleven-year-old Maria (nickname Tita), twelve-year-old Aristides (nickname Aris), their parents - Aspasia and Takis - and Amalia and George, the children’s best friends. The play begins with the two siblings having a fight, revealing their inability to understand the others’ needs due to each gender’s different viewpoints. From the beginning, it becomes evident that the mother’s parenting is inadequate and she is unable to prevent her children’s quarrels, while at the same time she is ignored by her husband, who is absorbed in his professional problems. The children’s quarrels have reached such a peak that there comes a definite breach in their relationship, but neither their parent’s relationship is in its best phase. It is at this point where Seitanis provides the magical solution; using the elements of transformation and role-switching, the playwright has the two children changing bodies between them.
This switching of the roles works on two levels: firstly, at the level of the characters, where the heroes learn new things about the opposite sex and relationships in general through their new form and, secondly, at the level of the audience; depending on their gender, the spectators identify with the respective hero, sympathizing with him through his/hers originally "painful" transformation and experiencing a cathartic journey towards knowledge and understanding of the other sex and human relations.
Characterized by an accurate and clever humor, the play diverges from the scope of didacticism and unfolds - through comic situations - the everyday reality that the two young adults experience in their preteens: their dreams, desires and loves. Along with the microcosm of the two children we are observe the adult world, and realize how important the dynamics of the relationships within the family are for a balanced and peaceful coexistence.
The “play within a play” technique is used again in this work; the children address the audience, making it complicit in their secret and companion in their efforts to restore order. The dramatic irony in the play contributes to its comic orientation; only the children and the audience know what has happened and, since neither the parents nor the children’s friends suspect the truth, numerous humorous situations develop every time they address the two children.
If you… were me! echoes Paramythiada, and Seitanis proves once again an expert manipulator of language. Through the use of clever humor he creates a representative sample that enables him to illustrate the reality of human relations, cleverly avoiding the monotonous and perhaps boring psychosocial play. Plot twists in a variety of situations provoke the myth’s development, while his heroes emerge victorious in the final climax and resolution of the play. Once again, good prevails over evil and the audience leaves the theatre satisfied.