SAKIS SEREFAS' THEATRE,
- Maria Karananou, Dramaturg
Translation: Katerina Gournaropoulou
Sakis Serefas is undoubtedly a leading figure in the literary world. Constantly alternating between different genres – from poetry to prose and theater- he never seizes to amaze us with his distinctive writing style.
His intention is to narrate stories about marginalized people who exist among us, since, as the playwright asserts in “Melted butter”, “…we obtain our existence through stories that other people create about us. We are all a part of a bigger story, that we never get to hear the end of it” while in the play “Mission to Planet Earth”, Kas declares; “I want to be a part of a certain story, like everyone else. They all remind you of a certain story. They find one and become a part of it. And just like that, everyone has a story to tell about someone else. It doesn’t feel good, being left outside of their stories.”
The focal point of Serefas’ plays is man and the human behavior. Serefas is an expert observer of human behavior. It is not by accident that one of the main themes in one of his first plays “Mission to Planet Earth” is the record, the observation and the decoding of human behavior. As mentioned in the introduction of the play, Kas and Fos, two extraterrestrial beings arrive to earth, the world of humans; their purpose is “the study and documentation of the human behavior, as well as finding a way to become a part of it”. Through a series of everyday acts, getting dressed, going for a walk to the countryside, the beach or to the city, interacting with humans, shopping, seeing a play up to attempting to create a memory of their own and going out on a date, the human behavior is deconstructed and all human relationships are uncovered. The playwright scornfully exposes modern society and leaves us questioning our most everyday acts.
Another testament on human behavior is the monologue “Seminar on Stupidity”, which was written shortly after “Mission on Planet Earth”. Here, Serefas, using his own traumatic experience in school, an experience that anyone can easily identify with, attempts to understand and interpret how the behavior of others can potentially determine and shape our own identity. He addresses one of the biggest fears within us; the fear of being characterized as a fool. At the same time, the playwright penetrates deep into the insecurities and roles we assume every day, as a means to cope with the cruelty of others, in an effort to remain unscathed. The monologue is in fact one of a deliberating nature, by scoffing the stereotypes imposed on us both on a social and personal level, since stupidity, acting out of the ordinary, a quality deeply hardwired inside each one of us, finds a way to exist, to breathe and to acquire its own place in our daily routine.
The stereotypes of human behavior are also explored in the play “She’s single”, whose main theme, as the author himself aptly expresses, can be summed up in the phrase “Alone-Girl being devoured”. A young, single woman, who is confronted with the stereotype of mating as the sole purpose of human existence, is forced to make up an imaginary companion in order to survive against the social pressure which takes various forms; from the concern of her mother to her colleagues’ mood for gossip. The exposure of her lie will occur in a malicious manner as her colleagues, under the pretence of sincerity, assume the role of indignant punishers and go on to expose and humiliate her attempt to survive against the harsh demands of which the world is made of.
One of the main themes in Serefas’ plays and prose is that of deviant human behavior. In “Dragons” as well as in his novel “God in person”, he revisits the story of Aristos Pagratides, the man who was convicted and executed, accused of being the “Dragon of Sheikh Sou” and delves deeply into the mechanisms which can wound and devour a human being; family, friends and society. If, based on his behavior, Pagratides is characterized as a Dragon, why shouldn’t we ascribe the same characterization to the prosecutor, the journalist, the friends, and the psychiatrist, based on their behavior as well? In “Melted butter”, as well as in “I’ll become a diseuse”, a novel along the same lines based on actual events, Serefas once again attempts to understand the motives and observe the conditions which led a woman’s ex-fiancé to murder her in a hotel room in Thessaloniki.
Reality is nearly always the main source of inspiration for Serefas; an article in a newspaper, a lonely person, an incident that caught his attention, all become starting points for his stories. The urban scenery dominates in his plays. He traces the lives of various people, whether in the past or in previous decades, and sets his scenes behind closed doors, where the most unusual incidents usually take place. His plays, however, are not products of traditional realism. Using different techniques, he breaks the established norms and introduces a surrealistic element, which gives him the freedom to avoid any irrelevant sentimentality.
The frequent presence of a “coordinator” supports this reasoning; it is a character that, most of the times, is the playwrights’ alter ego, who monitors, coordinates, comments and, quite often, interprets the action that takes place. It is the troubadour and the grandmother in “She’s single”, the writer in “Melted Butter”, the psychiatrist in “Dragons”.
The precise statistics and scientific evidence that persistently appear in his plays also move along the same lines. The remaining number of ovaries in a woman’s body; the dopamine produced at the nucleus accumbens area of the brain; the relationship between dandruff and environmental issues; the 15000 daily blinks of the average person; mnemonic lipids and the function of progesterone; the fact that a bee flies approximately twice around the earth in order to produce one kg of honey; the six hundred quintillion cells of grey matter. Each one of them, checked, confirmed carefully and scientifically formulated, provide us with the right perspective in every story, have a parenthetic function in the representation of reality, preventing the emotional involvement on the viewers’ part and blur the differences between the important and the unimportant, imbuing a sense of grotesque humor even during the most serious and horrific descriptions.
Food is also a dominant element in his dramaturgy. However, it is not seen as a means of satisfying one’s hunger but as a source of senses that creates powerful images. In “Yum-Yum (Food)”, the seven different kinds of food function as structural elements in the play, leading the character into adulthood. The rice with lentils and the chicken in “She’s single”, the meatballs and pizza in “Mr. Smith opens the door” but also the smell of melted butter, which resembles the feeling of a melting soul, create powerful imagery, in the unique way in which the human brain associates facts with smells and flavors.
Serefas’ language is extremely creative and combines the economy of speech we often encounter in poetry as well as the in depth permeation into the characters and situations, a characteristic element of literature. Elements of humor and irony are intertwined with scientific observations and thus create a unique, personal style. Serefas handles the speech of every character with great ease but at the same time maintains a prevalent verbal quality, which creates familiar and vivid characters. Being a shrewd expert of the theatrical code, Serefas also preserves his focus on the necessary for the stage communicative game, in order to uphold the interest and keep the audience focused.
Serefas is a playwright who favors twists and surprises in his works. None of his plays has an expected outcome, but is rather an experimentation, it defies the established norms and creates a personal style of writing with distinctive morphological elements. Serefas responds to a stimulating environment and narrates stories about the man-eating society in which we live, how we are being attacked and devoured and how, more often than not, we are the ones who devour ourselves. And it is through these stories that Serefas wonders; “Could it be true, or is it merely a terrifying rumor, that all of us are simply a part of an even bigger story, doomed never to find out how it is going to end?”