PENY FYLAKTAKI’S THEATRE,
- Evdokia Delipetrou, Dramaturg - Phd Candidate
Aspects of Peny Fylaktaki’s theatre
MAN We lost.
WOMAN Friendly game?
MAN Don’t worry. It starts all over again. Every single year.
A man and a woman are talking in front of a T.V. The woman asks. The man answers. Their topic is football and their dialogue ends with a soothing phrase about time. An analysis of this image would yield basic aspects of modern Greek reality: Firstly, it presents relationships in the core of the family and consequently in the social whole, since family is a powerful institution in this country. Secondly this image refers to the role of media. Not only can television mould people’s mentality and conscience, but it can also establish seeming as a priority. The discussion topic could also be considered as an indicative comment: the competitiveness of professional sports can be seen as a reflection of social competitiveness which ruthlessly sacrifices social awareness for an immature individuality. Finally, the repetitiveness of history is implied: It seems that “every year” we “lose” but we also repeat the same mistakes and since this is the case you‘d better “not bother”.
Peny Fylaktaki’s work follows these lines employing both irony and tenderness. She criticizes contemporary Greek reality through comical forms and seeks the causes of today’s problems in history as well as in modern interpersonal relationships.
Country, Religion, Family (1)
“Damned little virus […] running down from father to son. It starts so smooth, so innocent, you hardly notice it […] That first lie is to blame for it all. A tiny whiny lie –and for a good cause, indeed.” (Like Father Like Son)
Family constitutes a key theme in Peny Filaktaki’s work, which is thus tuned to the contemporary criticism of the institution of family and its role in the Greek social life. The writer presents and simultaneously subverts familiar models and inherited roles, in order to show the deterioration of seemingly healthy family relationships and to comment on the way family shapes modern life. Potent women, mothers and grandmothers, pull the strings according to their own or their family’s interests and wangle their way into power. They keep family relationships under control, they protect and promote their sons, and they preserve the status quo by any means. Next to these women, men seem to be strong but they are actually submissive.
Gender relationships are largely influenced by this situation, as well as people’s aspirations and coping with everyday life and solitude. On the one hand, the women of the younger generations walk on a tight rope between a given, conservative femininity and a dynamism which is expressed less in the professional field and more in sexual assertiveness. On the other hand, young men maintain traditional male obsessions, like football, but at the same time experience difficulty in adjusting to the prevalent male model. Even though both genders are skeptical about traditional role models they can’t manage to openly question them. On the contrary, they find ways to hide their insecurity and their loneliness and also to suppress otherness, thus preserving the same quandaries. Both men and women pretend to be something different or just evade issues instead of standing up. As a result the distance between seeming and being increases to such an extent that it reaches absurdity.
Country, Religion, Family (2)
PRIEST: Put your conscience at ease and open your mouth (Greek History Lessons)
Since family is located in the centre of the Greek social tissue it consequently determines social institutions; therefore social institutions are paradoxically determined not by social but by individual necessities. In Peny Filaktaki’s comic world, politicians, priests and reporters are part of a corrupted system which is based on lies and generally follows the family model. Accordingly, everybody uses whatever means or power they dispose in order to provide for themselves and their own interests.
Ceremonies, which could be an expression of human values and social cohesion, are being mocked. A ‘backstage’ look at weddings, funerals, child births and political speeches reveals a world of black comedy where freaked-out people experience outrageous situations.
Country, Religion, Family (3)
MOTHER: Lace? What lace? The lace I gave you? The one my aunt gave me? The one her great-grandmother had given her? This lace? (Greek History Lessons)
Scepticism about the Greeks’ relation to their own history is another aspect of Peny Filaktaki’s work which connects it to the contemporary discussion on the repetitiveness of history and more particularly on the recurrence of problems which seem historically insuperable. Obsessions, faults and mentalities, which lead to familiar problems, seem to be inherited from one generation to the next. Another, so to speak, national inheritance has been created, one contrasting the glorious ancestors, one which doubts and subverts the prevalent notions of national greatness.
“There needs to be something slightly insulting to social life within the cause of comic […], since society replies to it with a gesture which resembles very much a defensive reaction, a gesture which is slightly frightening.” (Henri Bergson, The laughter)
Peny Fylaktaki can easily manipulate diverse comic forms and utilize various comic traditions, maintaining a tendency to irony and to dark comedy. Her work is generally characterized by fast paced, witty dialogues with a realistic basis but often distorted by eruptions and repetitions which render them somehow odd and enhance the comic effect. The tricks, the lies and the secrets the heroes employ, in order to unscrupulously adjust institutions and moral obligations to their own needs, result in misunderstandings and twists that trigger absurd situations and outrageous plots.
The comic mechanisms of dissonance and divergence, or even deviance, provide a tool for criticism: Situations are abnormal but the characters are desperately ordinary, trying hopelessly to adjust to normality and follow the rules. It is this very effort, in fact, that forces the plot out of control; and this is the very reason why extremity can be revealing: normal people end up in absurdity because they comply with faulty rules. Thus a reflection of contemporary reality is created which demonstrates the false decency and the hypocrisy of modern Greek society by focusing on its obsessions.
The (not) happy ending
“I can no longer make it like you do. I cannot go on as if the past never existed. I cannot be reborn among the dead, jump with excitement into the very same mistake, with the certainty that this time it will come out right. Lucky you. You never look back. You live a for a while, move constantly and forget. I’ve been forever, standing in the same spot remembering”. (The Building)
The lightheartedness of comedy is subverted by the exasperation of criticism. The writer refuses to offer happy or at least relieving solutions. In the end everything is suspended, including the suspicion that despite the ‘adventure’ the same fear will recur, the same dead ends will reappear and the same conditions will prevail again.
However, there is also a certain tenderness that can be detected in these comedies. The characters are vivid and dynamic (even though frustrated), with disorganized lives and disorientated sensitivities. In most cases they have lost their consciousness or the genuiness of their feelings. Nevertheless, they have maintained their life impulse and they keep on trying, although in wrong ways and for wrong reasons. They keep on; and as long as this movement is maintained, hope is probably maintained too.