MINAS VINTIADIS S THEATRE,
- Dimitris Tsatsoulis, Professor of Theatre Semiotics and Performance Theory in the Department of Theatre Studies, University of Patras - Theatre critic
Body narratives – Identity memories
Minas Vintiadis (Port Said, 1957) known for his distinct style of writing, prose writer (What I Told Claudia, 1996; The Three Marias, 1996; God’s Right Foot, 2003, etc.) enters the field of dramaturgy with a realistic style of writing, rammed by the paradoxical, the fluid, the subversive.
The focal point of his two dramatic plays, the main interest of this first approach to his dramaturgy, is the human body as a canvas on which narratives (Tattooland) or identity games (Lower Parthenon) are written.
Lower Parthenon, is a dialogue, taking place in an apartment overlooking the Parthenon, between two people (Nouveau-Poor – New-Homeless), who while at first seem completely different, are, in the end, two very similar men of the same age. Each one’s attempts to intrude the other’s personal life reveals elements of a profound difference between them, while at the same time, allows mutual criticism on the life the other leads by necessity or choice.
Their conflict is at first given through stage directions, according to which a video is shown of the New-Homeless satisfying his everyday needs somewhere in Philopappos and the Nouveau-Poor fully engrossed in work. Both will then appear on stage, in the fully decorated apartment of the latter, who, with the excuse of buying second-hand books from the former, will ask him to play a determining role in his life; to murder him, so as to avoid the shame the stockbroking bankruptcy will bring upon him and to ensure compensation for his children – the fruit of his two failed marriages.
Through their concise dialogues, the New-Homeless will be proven skillful in stonewalling and in providing alternative solutions, gradually revealing knowledge and culture that the Nouveau-Poor seems to have driven to the depths of his memory in his hunt for financial success. It will be him, then, who will come up with the final solution: the move from the penthouse overlooking the Parthenon to the “Lower Parthenon”, where people left homeless for various reasons live, a place of otherness in the heart of historical Athens, a place Vasilis Ziogas gave metaphysical aspects, in one of his novels (The Flourishing Man, 2001). The New-Homeless will lead the Nouveau-Poor to this “other world” that lies in the fringes of the real world, but is also parallel to it, a microcosm where the real social, family, economic identity as it has been imposed on the dominant world has no value. Before that, he will set fire to the apartment and all his belongings, after having staged his murder, which he has recorded and sent to the Media. Virtually he renders the Nouveau-Poor a man with no identity. A man who is experiencing by choice what others would call “bare life”: a life with no name, with no documents declarative of his existence, with no resources and no society. A man who transcends the borders, both territorial (where laws do not apply), and those of his rights as a citizen. An unclaimed dead man.
Through these dialogues that focus on the murder/suicide of the Nouveau-Poor, the play creates open questions, what Iser calls “gaps” that preoccupy the reader/viewer. Small coincidences (for example, the New-Homeless mentioning that he has stocks in the Nouveau-Poor’s company), knowledge the New-Homeless has, that one would expect only the Nouveau-Poor to have and other things which create an atmosphere of murkiness and gaps left to the reader/viewer to fill. Finally, there is also the strange resemblance between the two when the New-Homeless, without asking first, takes a shower and dresses up in the other’s clothes and ends up looking like him. This change of clothes writes a new identity on him, which insinuates the, at first imperceptible, identification of the two. Like new skin. And then in the end, they introduce themselves for the first time, amidst the burning apartment. Oddly enough they share a name, something which confirms that they comprise the stage duality of a single person.
Thus, Vintiadis creates an identity game which brings a segmented self of the dramatic persona to the spotlight, and at the same time rams the stage present with an external to the stage future: The New-Homeless is what the Nouveau-Poor will become after the curtain falls. A future version of himself which gives a corporeal nature to a monologic dialogue that took place in a crucial moment of the Nouveau-Poor’s life in the past and is now reproduced as a projection in the present, as a passage to the future.
Transcending societal norms, the play seems to be in favor –when given an external excuse– of the full denial of the structured society which alienates the individual, and the intentional transition of the individual body to a state external to the societal/national body.
His second play, Tattooland is multifaceted. The game of identities is here presented through writings on the bodies of the characters, which they request from a tattoo artist, with the strange name “Captain Cook”.
The tattoo culture, popularized and usually guilt-free today, in contrast to the past, when it meant integration to a social subgroup, continues to confirm Emile Durkheim’s (1912) ascertainment according to which tattoos “constitute the most immediate and expressive way for the communication of consciousness to be accomplished”. A form of communication unstated and a bit mystical but encumbered with special meaning for the bearer. Which, moreover, rejects old views like Letourneau’s (1880) historic-evolutionary theory or Lambroso’s (1886) atavistic one which originate from travelers or ethnographers of the time who viewed tattoos as their bearer’s desire for “beauty”.
The culturally written body constitutes a non-verbal form of communication which transforms the body to a vehicle of atomization, indicative of the free management of the body and its image. “To customize” as the English verb eloquently states, i.e. “to personalize something”. The body-substitute of paper becomes a signifier, the meanings of which are what has been written on it. It becomes the receptor of a “virtual” narrative, it turns its memories into images. The body remembers, the body possesses a memory and this memory will be imprinted on it in the form of a tattoo. The sentence “I want to use my body like the pages of a book; a book like a body”, heard on Peter Greenaway’s movie “The Pillow Book” (1994) is as iconic as it is revealing.
At the same time, writing a body with tattoos appertains to the theory of the body-mirror and its narcissistic aspect: the narcissistic body is impersonating itself, the person is portraying itself, molding itself using as its tools its appearance and the reactions it will cause.
Captain Cook’s customers ask for writings on their bodies, each with a different pursuit in mind. The two boys, Alex and Diego, wish to inscribe memories on their bodies, important incidents of their lives which they share and which unite them forever. They become two copies of a single book. The inscriptions of identical dates and words conjoin their stories, their shared experiences, the one with the other. And this is why when one of them will start feeling that the other is drifting apart, taking a different route of his own, he will commit suicide.
On the other hand, the young Selini does not wish for memories to be written on her body. Having chosen a specific symbol as her identity, she brings her lovers to Captain Cook so they can get her symbol-identity on their bodies. She wants to live on in her lovers’ bodies and not only in their fading memories. This is then a case of a reverse narcissistic perception; it is the other that gets turned into a mirror, the one who she herself has chosen to symbolize her. The symbol is after all encumbered with meaning which only those privy to it can decode.
If, however, each tattoo has a specific meaning for the bearer, even if this meaning is the loss of a bet, as it happens with the 65-year-old customer, how do all these tattoos, drawn on countless bodies, function for the artist-creator? How do the customers’ confessions about the meaning of their polymorphous tattoos function? How do all these bodies-surfaces, on which Captain Cook draws their stories, the core of their narratives, function?
It is not a coincidence that Captain Cook views the hard stories as nightmares, that he himself is turned into a hyper-book which includes them all. And perhaps this is why it is difficult to make the documentary on his life that Nora, who presents herself with a fake identity as a potential client, when what she really wants is to “steal” his life, wants to make. But which one is his life after all? The one that emerges in his interviews, or the one that is perhaps written on his thoroughly dressed body?
Filled with other people’s stories, full of designs which represent memories, Captain Cook, despite the general impression, does not have any writings on his own body except for a question mark. His skin does not bear any markings of his own life, any memories, only the mark of “question”. His body is a blank page of an unwritten book, a body with no visible memory, with no past and no origin. The body writer exists only in the writings he imprints on others, in the stories he etches on bodies – like an author who exists only in his dramatic/fictional characters.
Minas Vintiadis creates a dramatic text with brief images, videos and sharp dialogues and manages to cleverly entangle the six characters of his play in a dramatic text open to multiple interpretations from the reader/viewer. A play which focuses on the social and private body as a bearer of memories and as a means towards identification but also as a sample of decline and vanity. And moreover, a play for the relationship between creator and creation – a relationship which requires blood.
Translated by Nikos Stamatoulakis
 I am using here the term “vita nuda” by Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer, Einaudi, Torino, 1995, p. 203.
 Antonis Liakos, Reflections on Nation by Those Who Wanted to Change the World, Polis, Athens, 2005, p. 16-17.
 Wolfgang Iser, The Act of Reading: A Theory of Aesthetic Response, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London, 1978, p. 197 sq.
 J.M. Berthelot, “Sociological Discourse and the Body.” The Body. Social Process and Cultural Theory. Eds. M. Featherstone et al. London: Sage Publications, 1991. p. 390-404
 Thanasis, Moutsopoulos, “Prologue” to Mihalis Iliou’s Boys with Tattoos, Athens, Futura, 1999, p. 7-10.
 Arthur W. Frank, “For a Sociology of the Body: An Analytical Review” The Body. Social Process and Cultural Theory. Eds. M. Featherstone et al. London: Sage Publications, 1991. p. 36-102.