CHRISA SPILIOTI'S THEATRE,
- Kiriaki Petrakou, Professor at the Faculty of Theatre Studies at the University of Athens
[Translation: Elina Palaska]
Chrisa Spilioti, an actor, a playwright and a director, is theatre's "new woman", so much a creator as a performer: she knows her art in depth and she establishes her own view in terms of both drama and performance. She made her presence known as a playwright with her play Who Discovered America? (1996). The dramatic characters are two female cousins - very close friends. What is dealt with, through their lifelong relationships of friendship and rivalry, is the effort of the contemporary (second half of the 20th century, as it appears from textual references) Greek women to reach emancipation and free themselves from the repressive mechanisms of their traditional upbringing. They are educated, they try to work and break free, they take part in political actions. During the span of their life they stagger between the traditional and the contemporary role. One is trapped by pregnancy and premature marriage, the other is self-sufficient, however they both fall in love and live, in succession, with the same man, their young love. As Keti puts it, "I want to make money, I want people to value my personality, I want them to appreciate my mind" (p. 32). She is, however, a desperate housewife, while her cousin is a desperate executive. They do not exactly win, nor do they lose - a tie. The only (unstable yet ultimately abiding) axis of their existence is their sisterhood (meddling with a strong dose of betrayal). This play has been a great success: it is being staged almost every year, under different productions, in Greece and abroad. It touches upon a controversial contemporary issue, which appears in modern Greek theatre since the beginnings of the 20th century, noting an absence of approximately four decades post-war (when women acquired the right to vote and entered the educational and working environment, this type of contemporary Greek theatre was almost eliminated). Dense structure, psychological and, at the same time, witty dialogue, preferential roles and economic production are some of its purely theatrical virtues, that render it popular among the people of the theatre, as well as the audience.
Her next play, Scottish Shower, explores the life of theatre in a modern sarcastic style: a troupe stages Lisistrata. The male director is, of course, dominant, and he pinpoints the issue to be the war between the two sexes and he characterizes the dramatic character of Lisistrata to be the first feminist in history. He also clarifies that Aristophanes' era is closer to matriarchy rather than patriarchy, according to Engels and Marx. He maintains love affairs with some of the actresses, who are inevitably antagonistic and generally complain that they always lose and are lost at the game of love, even though it is not clear whether they accept sex selfishly, or because they are charmed by his status.
Hug, Squeeze and Kiss is, in a way, a "family comedy", pertaining to family relationships. Women are sexually liberated, they even have cyber sex, even though they often fall in the trap of their desire for a relationship. The issues of education, work and personal plans and goals are probably lost to them. The institution of family is, probably, a parody. Fire and Water (2007) is an "internal incision" in the relationships of Greeks and immigrants, presented in a realistic style and a rather absurd storyline, not unheard of however. Two refugees, an Iraqi teacher who lost his family to war and an Iranian who escaped to spare herself from her abusive husband and system, leaving her children behind, live their miserable and marginal life haunted by ghosts of the past. They endure the distrust of the country to which they resorted, a country which is never named, it is obvious, however, that it is Greece. The man captures a post-office clerk who arrived by mistake at his door, and he tries to coerce him into the culture of Islam. Even "the Stranger" bears traumas of domestic psychological and physical violence, hidden under the smooth surface of his social life. Despite the humanity and the sorrow they reveal conflicting and drinking, when the Stranger falls for the Iranian, sexism comes to surface: they practically ally and they bet her on chess. She abandons them, desperate. The damned of this earth are unable to see the only light in their lives. In Who Is Sleeping Tonight? (2012) which is characterized, sarcastically, as a "comedy" by the playwright, written in fragmented scenes that comprise three dramaturgical axes, she attempted to denominate modern Greece during the crisis. Especially Athens, full of homeless, crazies and drug addicts, plus executives, clerks, wealth, babies, young and mature and old people. The scenes consecutively depict the parallel worlds: the world of the margin, full of misery, social outrage and derangement, and the world of business, full of cynicism and relentless interests, the world of the accommodated bourgeoisie. It is, of course, a play of social denouncement, with symbolic figures and modern Greek slang, using profanity full of quotes from Palamas, Solomos, even Brecht. Likewise, Eye of the Tiger, with an undefined theatrical time, future or past, and using a town as its space (modern connotations: a shop, like all those that have sprung out of nowhere, for the market of gold), black people who are being persecuted. Everyday language, contemporary Greek slang affected by Pontikas and Dialegmenos, as well as sexuality: sex beyond the barriers of economic exchanges, with some sensuality and no eroticism, men who try to dominate women who are more capable than them, women who, unfortunately, need men and accept them as they are. One of them is a fascist who belongs to a "Holy Company" that kills black people by torturing them, inspired by ancient Greece and its myths, obvious hints of a contemporary political party and some politicians.
Winning by a Breast is the monologue of a woman, who, through a difficult course of treatment of a serious illness, manages to overcome the obstacles created by it and her social and domestic environment, and who eventually discovers herself and her literary talent. In Doors, a modern woman, a successful and independent businesswoman, resorts to a psychologist-psychoanalyst, even though she is full of distrust over his method, to help her overcome a little symptom: her difficulty to walk through doors. However, walking through doors is a sine qua non for life. The sessions, with a flash-back method, reveal the psychopathology of a "normal" family, which includes the rape of the patient by her grandfather, when she was a child. The patient eventually questions the validity of the revelation and the therapeutic method, believing that the psychoanalyst is responsible for the creation of false memories, deciding she has no problem. The truth remains fleeting and the symptom disappears, probably temporarily: the soul is rarely healed, if ever.
There is also an interest in teenagers or older children: Your True Story? is a version of an older play for adults (The Trip). Based on Lucian's stories, it combines the imagination of the ancient writer with contemporary scientific theories and it has the necessary didactic dimension, in this case the freedom of the spirit, as well as the value of love and companionship.
Spilioti's plays, differing one from another both in themes and dramaturgical techniques, are integrated in the movement of modern Greek dramaturgy, that could be named "post-realism", so that it could include all the modern plays -in a time when everything is named post- involving free movement in time and in the subconscious, with flash-backs, that are now a common technique in modern theatre. Even in her first play, the social dimension interfered with her heroes' choices, although the scratching of the surface referred to their psychology and their interpersonal relationships. In her next plays, humor and satire prevail, exploring once again the micro world of theatre and the urban family.
Ever since Fire and Water, the contemporary social phenomena prevail over the roles, that gradually increase, become more representative and symbolic, the plays become accusations and more harsh, by theme and not by authorial intention. Humanity always brews, but is frequently veiled and smashed through the plot and the resolution, as in reality. They are "plays of thesis" and their intent to motivate the audience into realization of the drama of the modern world and maybe into the attempt to make a difference, even if "generous in small ways" as the poet said, is obvious. And her turning to teen theatre, within this humanitarian context, may be due to the fact that young people are more receptive and impressible.
Her course is utterly interesting, as is her talent; however, there can be no conclusion: she still has a long way to go, "full of adventure, full of discovery".