MELINA PAPAGEORGIOU'S THEATRE,
Four different need and dependence stories. Six characters who are met or lost. Someone desperately looking for companionship, another for a second chance. One trusts a stranger with their life. Two others meet in a cold night on a bench and fight over a mattress. A collage of human relations, ordinary and innocent at first glance, but perhaps hiding danger, violence, or exploitation. Viewers like voyeurs are invited to decide which side of human nature they will "see" in the characters, through their own interpretation of each story. In the background the gradual collapse of a social system built on sand.
Melina Papageorgiou’s Mezzanine was born and raised in the course of a collective effort of support, development and refinement of the modern Cypriot voice in the theater: it was the Play program, organized by the Cyprus Centre of the International Theatre Institute and the Cyprus Theatre Organisation. The idea for the project and the first "writing samples" coincided with the presence of theatrical mentor Graham Whybrow 2011, whose workshop Melina Papageorgiou attended. Whybrow had distinguished her, he had spoken of her as "a true artista", a true artist who is concerned, rewrites, examines, questions, goes through suffering.
Later, when presented in the form of analogion in November 2013, Mezzanine stood out for its freshness, its directness, and for how the writer listened and captured the matter of the day, the "crisis", in a special way. The presentation was made in the wake of March 2013, when, after the "bail in", our dignity as a society and our integrity as a state shattered irreparably.
The Melina Papageorgiou’s play continues today, two years after the devastating March of 2013, to be timely, to reflect upon Cyprus as well as the global society of the period we are going through. The play reveals a world where everything is fluid, everything is overturned, and nothing is as it seems at first sight. Melina Papageorgiou presents a collapsing system, because it has been rotten for years.
She uses an almost cinematic style of writing, mirroring everyday scenes from a familiar world, our world. At the same time, she selects a modular dramaturgy, giving the impression of a patchwork of disjointed stories.
This feature of the play led to the directing and scenographic approach of the text and space, leading to the collage idea and the fragment, when the project was staged by the Imaginary Theatre in March 2015: in the promenade type show we faced bits of life happening around us, we saw their moments for a while, trying to interpret what they were hiding, then we moved to the next, often facing away from an awkward moment, as we indeed do. Papageorgiou’s characters are seemingly strangers to each other, their stories are parallel, chaotic or disjointed. But the connection exists, and is essential. It is thematic and philosophical. But it is also fate that connects us all: all deeds affect the people around them and no one is alone, even though we are all completely alone.
The play’s title refers to an intermediate non-space, a borderline, a transition point, before the scales are tipped one way or the other. The characters are on the verge of tumbling, falling from the comfortable position to which they were brought by the capitalist dream. Soon they will be confronted with a new reality. Melina Papageorgiou does not deem important to tell us all exactly what happens next, the exact origins and endings, the how and why. Neither does she focus on the key points in their lives. She focuses on everyday moments of human communication, conciliation, encounters, seemingly innocuous moments, almost ritualistic, which encapsulate idiosyncrasies, attitudes and social conditions in their ordinariness. As a result, what dominates is the sense of pending, of an uncertainty which might bother us, because as Aristotelian trained viewers we want to close all the threads of the story, we learn how and why and everything, so that our experience concludes with some kind of catharsis, closure. But this is not offered in Mezzanine. Solutions to the social chaos in which we live are not so easy.
Working the play all this time, from its submission to the Play organization until the staging by the Imaginary Theatre, I realize that, while it is certainly a step forward for Cypriot writing, it is at the same time deeply "Cypriot". What is Cypriot in this play? Other from the fact that it is a mirror to the social context of a particular historical moment, it also has Cypriot temperament: no huge explosions and extreme behaviors exist in Mezzanine, but rather hidden secrets and unspoken desires, emotions simmering, compromises of life that kill slowly, covertly crimes disguised in everyday relations, hypocrisy which is almost a second nature ... But isn’t this somewhat how we got where we are as a society? That paradise was a sham, is what the play reveals. On the other hand, Papageorgiou with her always-generous and humanistic glance, believes in light, in the ability of humanity to improve, and insists that there is hope hidden somewhere in the stories of Mezzanine.
Melina Papageorgiou is interested in critical historical, socio-political events and how they determined the lives of the people of Cyprus the last decades. The characters may be placed in daily actions, dialogues, situations, however social context is anything but ordinary. In Angry Flowers, submitted to the theatrical writing contest of THOC in 2009 and winner of the second prize, the subject is fleeing, an open wound for Cypriot society, which most of our generation, especially, choose to forget.
This preoccupation with the major socio-political issues often takes a reminiscence-memory form rather than present action. This is a common element that both plays have, Angry Flowers and Mezzanine. It is as if the characters are at a point in their life where they make an assessment.
In Angry Flowers it seems that the symbolism of space, scenery, mental, realistic or imaginary, is also extremely important to the playwright’s work. So it is usually described in great detail, with scenographic suggestions. Within this space Papageorgiou sees and hears her characters before she starts writing. And while writing, the scenery remains alive and decisive for the action.
Speaking for Angry Flowers, the author says: "Angry Flowers were set off by a question: how much can a war change a person's life? The question arose from real people and situations experienced in Cyprus after '74. Besides the killed, the wounded, the missing persons, the material destruction, the uprooting, the loss of relatives, the loss of property, the people experiencing a war are no longer the same. They do not live the life they knew and some, such as the couple of the play are not able to start from the beginning. They simply survive until the natural end finds them, always hoping ... Hoping for the "coming of the Daughter". These people found themselves from living in their rich house to living in a district apartment surrounded by unfamiliar faces. The difference was so tragically apparent. They are forced to seek the help of others. The Woman sees this as a humiliation. This is another issue that preoccupied me. War demeans man. Social problems were subsequent. The small communities of people, the neighbor, the relative, the relations between them, the morality that characterized these relationships, family and family relations, all of them were gone, had been replaced, had changed. And then there are the experiences that persecute them, the nightmares, from when they were thrown in the fire of war, faced with the greatest fear of man, that of death. "
Melina Papageorgiou writes with the innocence and sincerity of a person who cares and who believes that the role of art is genuinely political.
Magdalena Zira was consultant in Play program and director of Mezzanine, (Imaginary Theatre 2015)