Glikeria Basdeki’s Theatre,
- Grigoris Ioannidis, Assistant Professor, Theatre Studies Department, University of Athens
Translation: Vasiliki Misiou
I scribble down my own, hasty notes in the margin of the curriculum vitae of Glikeria Basdeki:
She was born in the countryside./She still lives there./She is a philologist and teaches in a Junior High School in Xanthi./She writes poetry./She often thinks of Volos./She made her debut in playwriting quite late./She writes plays “upon request”./She has constant partners and she is firm in her love of old texts./ She often recalls her mother./She also writes features in a strange, new way. She turns to literature./Her work belongs to the genre of ethographia in the context of a general hellenicity./She looks back on women.
I have always thought that the plays triggered by nostalgia keep nostalgia alive. Of course we tend to use the word “transitively”: nostalgia for someone or something. Still, though, in the case of Glikeria Basdeki, nostalgia itself functions intransitively. It is conjugated with words, without an object. And, thus, it can be felt.
But, what’s this kind of transitive and intransitive nostalgia? It is the common nostalgia with which texts are imbued, expressing a mood for return. First, a return to familiar people who hide behind the characters of the texts. An absent mother, somewhere hidden. Way back, an undelivered love, farther back an unexpressed love. The place of children toys. The word carries the weight of the person who was the first to utter it. And, last, characters, as if they were all dead and now come back to complement their presence. Some may argue that I embark on a “dark” analysis of Basdeki. It’s not at all that... Basdeki’s theatrical poetry is not at all dark.
Perhaps because her plays are brightened also by another kind of nostalgia: that for childhood. It is perhaps the image of a childlike landscape, a movie in a summer cinema, a poem crumpled and closed in an inner pocket. It’s not at all accidental that Basdeki’s theatre was linked, actually in some kind of a spiritual relationship like the one with one’s godparent or best man, to the quest of director and visual artist Yannis Skourletis. They got a common space and landscape, and Basdeki’s words found a place, one could say, on a bed of his own, on a lampshade, in the memory of Yannis Tsarouchis or the mischief of Nikos Engonopoulos whom Skourletis places in his paradises.
It needs to be stressed at this point that Basdeki’s dramaturgy is compatible with Skourleti’s theatre, but only in some kind of a shirt-tail relation. It’s not limited only to that.
In her first play, “Stella Travel – The Recited Land”, memory is rewritten in an ethographic remix challenge based on old and current images, which constitute an erotic and ambivalent world. Beauty, the absolute and irrational power, cause and effect of sin is still dominant though. Love which moves things in the absence of divine intervention. Just a breath away from the social environment of the distant, mythical and invisible 1955, which is conveyed through the language used by and the ethos of the characters. The cinematographic set of naïve, popular juvenility, the set of Michael Cacoyannis’ one and only “Stella” and Melina Merkouri, who does everything big and extravagant, “easy”. Beyond and behind everything there is an abstract sense of futility, the bitter awareness that whatever happened in the past won’t repeat itself, even if it still shines in the horizon of our Modern Greek identity. When the play was staged by bijoux de kant in 2013 (under the direction of Yannis Skourletis, with Lena Drosaki, Marianthi Pantelopoulou, and Aineias Tsamatis in its cast), the audience was given the opportunity to discern a new writing style which, although it leans on many things, hangs in the still air, throwing behind it the scaffolding that helped it emerge. The place of the play is that of the countryside.
Farther back is the nostalgia of myth. Not that of a great myth, but of the little myth that makes us up, a (m)ethographia of minor things which are related to our fluid, metaphysical self. Most of Basdeki’s characters are part of this. They are half-invented and ours, embodied in the myth of neo-hellenicity and in the wake of the generation of the ’30s. Our own myth: Cacoyannis’ “Stella”, the sigh of a black-and-white film melodrama, Constantinos Christomanos, Carolos Koun, Yannis Tsarouchis and Vasilis Tsitsanis. This makes up our outer and inner land, our inner and outer homeland. We are nostalgic about it even if we have never truly got to know it.
In Basdeki’s play “RAMONA Travel –The Land of Kindness” a woman, called RAMONA, returns to her hometown. She visits her younger sister in order to protect herself, preserving the idiom of national, class, and cultural descent. She is an urban folk (laiki) singer who has worked in a decadent music hall (skyladiko) in the countryside, healing the pain of the provincials with the folk balm of a motherly mistress. Ramona, a woman of no age, holds a nationality, genuine and faded. She is a downtrodden singer, unwanted in the current Modern Greek myth, - still though she is powerful and talkative. Her sister Stella is married to a man from Bulgaria, Zlatan, whose body is that of a true man, rough and edible.
The play was presented by bijoux de kant in 2014 [under the direction of Yannis Skourletis, with Karyofillia Karabeti, Lena Drosaki, Dimitris Mothonaios, Kris Radanof and Vasilis Ziakas (accordion) in its cast] with great success. A different form of ethographia was employed, that of a strange and flowing one, which can equally easily draw on the testimony of the generation of the ’30s, post-war fiction, even on current reality.
The play is based on the “Streetcar Named Desire” or, more accurately, it voluntarily unfolds in its post-war shadow. At the end, though, the male characters of the play are either set free and get away (in the case of Marcos), or they are ritualistically bound hand and foot and sacrifice themselves (in the case of Zlatan). Woman triumphs and is placed in the position of a totem, in the centre of the hearth. The place of the play is double: the place of Woman and the place of travel. Perhaps it’s the same place after all.
What Basdeki does has a name, as already stated, and it’s called “ethographia”. However, in her case “ethographia” encounters a new, personal perspective. It’s lyric ethographia. This allows theatre to freely turn today into yesterday, to move from the nationally “high” to what is humble and verbal and vice versa, and to integrate myth into reality. But she does believe in something: in people being beautiful and postmodern, which means being free and at the same time genuine and fickle, intact creations made up of scattered funeral gifts. It also means seeing our depression as being embraced with humour and the absurd as being closely related to transcendence.
In her play “Donna Abbandonata (or, You Made Me Very Sad, My Dear Mr. George)” a random young woman is set in a provincial town. It’s a place that stands still, a still nature landscape. The place of the play is that of a random hair salon, and “mythology” belongs to any of its topographies.
The centre of the monologue lies in the closest, most ordinary, humble and sacred core of female vanity. In an informal confessional for female sins and malformations.
As the woman has her hair done at the Salon, she recalls her brief meeting with a Greek Intellectual (with George Himonas to be more specific). In fact, she recalls her memory. She reminisces about the moment, the one, big moment, when she believed that the poet fell in love with her and dedicated his book to her.
Everything seems to be part of this play; a mixture of serious and silly elements, plausible and implausible ones. The figure of a deprived young woman from the countryside, as she holds on to daydreaming, not in order to complete her life, but in order to complement the memory of her youth and the frivolous conversations she had with the other young women at the hair salons.
The play was presented for the first time at the 57th Philippi Festival in Kavala, in the summer of 2014 (Direction: Thodoris Gonis, Starring: Eleni Ouzounidou, Mirto Goni).
And there is also, finally, the most profound and painful side of nostalgia: it is the romantic nostalgia for wholeness. For the connectedness of all those scattered pieces that cannot unite in something erect and tangible, something that can be held in hands and hold (“put in chains”) the things of memory, life and death. I notice in a collection of Basdeki’s poetry the word chain: “Pull Hard on the Chain”…. I see into it the need (if not anguish) that lurks in order to connect the links into something common, in continuity which will permeate Greek sensibility from past to present, and will make meaningful the pieces of our fragmented identity.
This is, after all, the way Basdeki touches upon Modern Greek literature. It could be described as a post-poetic power which sometimes destroys its web, and some others, using the mortar of Modern Greek myth, attempts to unite the parts of Modern Greek literature into a new, redemptive and modern re-creation. As it happens in her last play:
The third time Glikeria Basdeki cooperated with bijoux de kant was in 2015 with her play “Ah! (Re)reading “The Wax Doll” of Christomanos” (Direction: Yannis Skourletis, Starring: Lena Drosaki, Tasos Karahalios, Katerina Misihroni, Agni Papadeli–Rossetou). It is another rewriting of modern sensibility over the old iconostasis of Romanticism. The play is based on Constantinos Christomanos’ “The Wax Doll”, written in 1911, which conveys a love story, a love triangle to be more accurate, involving a woman who wanes physically, Verginia, the love that blooms between her husband, Nikos, and innocent Liolia, and fate which determines the development of the story that is both cursed and blessed by people.
Once again, the interest lies in the way Basdeki stands before the text of Christomanos. Her stance is more of a dialectic one, some kind of a questioning relation to the original text which carries its load to a place outside history, to a point that the world outside stays still (“holding its breath”) and its characters can stand for a while against their own history, to judge their own character, study their course from within. And in the end they are free: to understand their mistakes and succumb again to passions, but this time as a result of conscious choices of freedom and self-determination.
What’s interesting is not that the heroes are “modern” – it’s the fact that their today does not belong to the field of everyday life, but to that of literature. This is why “The Wax Doll” exists for real in Basdeki’s version, and the ending of Christomanos’ text can change: an aura of life spoils the romantic finale with the promise of a future victory of the living over the dead. This is the area of new Romanticism for Basdeki.
I strongly believe that Basdeki’s work is one of the most interesting in Modern Greek dramaturgy. Certainly the term “female literature” could be used here, but with caution. This is because it has been used in the past as a method of exempting female writers from the body of literature as a whole and as a way of burying them in the closet along with feminists. But none of the aforementioned stands in the case of Basdeki’s work. If something captures you, this is its ability to permeate language and reality, using language and reality as its weapons.
Of course this is not a privilege of women, and certainly not a peculiarity of the female sex. They are privileges Basdeki has acquired, developed and consolidated through her writing. This is not new: in Greek dramaturgy it can be witnessed in the work of Moutzan Martinegou, Evanthia Kairi, Liberaki, Anagnostaki, as well as in that of Mitropoulou and Roula Georgakopoulou. Greek women always acted this way in theatre: They followed men in the same path, but turned their head to look at landscapes that men erased from their memory due to rush, or kept their eyes fixed on the ground to discern the traces that men ignored due to their bias. Turning our attention to voices like that of Glikeria Basdeki we become in all aspects richer and more open to sense and sensibility.