LOULA ANAGNOSTAKI'S THEATRE,
- Irene Mountraki, Dramaturg - Theatre critic
Loula Anagnostaki’s work constitutes a series of heroic chants towards the exit, a series of humble hymns to freedom. The focus of her playwriting is man and his need to be free, to feel that he is always able to change his life and has the power to rediscover his orientation.
Her characters are part of the land, people trapped in a web of social and personal relationships from which they try to escape. These are people obsessed, most of them toilers, individuals who stand alone but are, at the same time, excited spirits, sensitive and agitated. Despite the fact that they face a deadlock, that they are or feel isolated and that they fight to save themselves, they bear a distinct quality that prevents the audience from feeling sorry for them; one never pities them, but respects them. Anagnostaki’s dramaturgy is a gallery of dignified people.
Most of her characters are young people who, although in theory their life lies ahead, they find themselves in personal and social deadlocks. Their desire is to tread towards life, but they lose their way in search of a more meaningful life. Kimon and Elizabeth in The City are a typical example of people who are struggling to find the life they desire in the wrong cities. Only a short distance separates the younger from the older characters; the difference lies in the fact that the younger ones only now realize that they are losing the right track, while the older ones have already lost it and are aware of this. In Diamonds, Anna knows very well where her life has led her and, yet, she can see a possible salvation, a certain uplift, through a song. They are all aware of their situation and yet still wish and hope for a certain escape; even a violent one. Paul, in The Cassette is probably one of the most composed characters; from the very beginning, he is aware of the level of his entrapment and of how desperately he wants to move away from his current environment. He will, however, try to integrate to his surroundings and suppress his desires, until such time as an insignificant event will lead him to suicide – for him, a redemption –, one committed not out of fear but of dignity. Sofia in To You who are Listening to Me is another character who will bravely take part in a dangerous expedition, only to give an end to stalemates.
These people are all placed in very specific social, political and cultural contexts. However, the author captures not the local and limited but the course, the dilemmas and the struggle of man, his effort to discover his true self and the conditions that will allow him to become who he wants. It is impressive that none of Anagnostaki’s characters chases money, fame or material things. Everyone is in a decisive battle with himself, and the fact that God is largely absent in her plays is particularly important: no one is pinning his hopes on him; one has to face himself and his fellow man. Human against human. The long, difficult battle is in the name of liberty.
This, however, is not a change that is detected and exhausted in individual escape and dreams; the external and the internal, the collective and the personal are always present. A parade, a football match, the parliamentary elections, a concert, a forum, the celebrations for new year's Eve, an engagement or a press conference, anything may be happening outside. The collective and the personal meet but do not necessarily collide; one presupposes and incorporates the other and, thus, the more private reaches to the depths of the soul and becomes universal. In To You who are Listening To Me lies the most typical example, where the interior space suddenly turns into a public one and every person attending rehearses a supposed speech.
One could assume that the stories become entangled and that all these characters that share experiences and qualities – with the themes of the foreign lands, and especially Germany, recurring –, who have common ideological quests, political pursuits but also moral burdens, all have met, have coexisted and are related. In The Overnight Stay and The Journey Away, the characters even share the same surname. The stories reveal real people, with dramas and sufferings that rock the recipient, and events within a very specific context; life, however, plays the same tricks to everyone, and it quickly becomes apparent that it makes little difference where these people come from and what language they speak. Thus, the strong locality and the Greek character expand to include all people and places; Anagnostaki’s theatre becomes universal.
This playwright’s stories touch the heart but do not aim at provoking pity; Sofia Apostolou in Deep Red Sky does not try to elicit the audience’s sympathy but faces life standing firmly on her feet, proud even for her ugly, stupid son who she visits in prisons. In The Interaction, the two women – Vasiliki and Olga – are not after their neighbors’ pity for the death of their little girl, but are looking for interaction with others and a sense of community. Every character’s story helps illuminate his past and account for what he has currently become. Besides, man is not only what he is right now, but also what he once was; more often than not, the past is inescapable and much more powerful than the present, while time constantly expands and contracts.
The stories do not work as catalysts for the development of the action and, in most cases, the spectator follows a course of events that have already occurred – besides, memory is one of the characters’ most important features. They remember, they are eager to reminisce their past even if they want to escape from it. Vaso and the Old Lady promise Niki to tell their story every week, in order to remember every little detail. Myrto writes a play about their life in The Journey Away, while Caterina in The Cassette keeps her life story a secret, revealing it only to Pavlos as proof of her love.
Loula Anagnostaki’s characters connect in mysterious ways: the earthy with the ethereal, the body with the soul, the matter with the spirit. Behind the realism of the facts, the stories, the personal and political situations, there is a deeply poetic, almost metaphysical dimension which becomes evident through the unique treatment of dreams: Aris, who is locked up with Zoe in The Parade, dreams that the key to the door of the room from which they never come out leads not to the exit but to a series of other rooms. In The Overnight Stay, Mimis dreams that his home has become a walkway for the public and he with his wife stay covered in bed, patiently waiting and utterly embarrassed.
Anagnostaki’s plays reveal the existential anguish of people who try to find their place in an ever-reshaping world. They show the struggle to justify existence and the people’s need to achieve something important, something unique. Sometimes, however, what one considers great may turn out to be a huge mistake, as is the case with John in The Sound of the Gun, where all the rage, the passion for power, control and substance suddenly accumulate in a weapon.
The resolution of the drama usually comes violently, in most cases with someone’s death or a flight – another kind of death. This game between life and death, light and shadow, illusion and reality, poetry and brutality is endless. Strangely enough, in a dramaturgy that leaves the audience with no space to breathe and one where a so-called 'happy end' is nowhere to be found, the spectator does not feel miserable, desolate or repressed. Anagnostaki’s raw materials are truth, dignity and the power of the soul; features which make her deeply humane, honest and archetypal. Urged by her characters that are lost in their lives, the spectator finds the strength and the courage to be more thoughtful and discover a new path in his own life.
[Translation: Elena Delliou]