RINA'S KATSELLI THEATRE,
- Leonidas Galazis, PhD in Modern Greek Philology
Undoubtedly, Rina Katselli is one of the most important figures in contemporary Cypriot dramaturgy. The representational strength, the plausibility, and the convincing representation of the dramatic space and time, along with her ability to breathe life into the dramatic personas, which distinguishes them from lifeless figures, are the main characteristics of her theatrical writing. On the other hand, using other theatrical texts inspired by the Cypriot Struggle for freedom as a starting point, as well as depictions of country life on the island (in the manner of ethographia) or of the first steps towards urbanization, she experiments in a way that alludes to the theater of the absurd; she is inspired by history and the Bible; she dissects the contemporary Cypriot society using satire as her scalpel; she is inspired by folk tradition; but, mainly and most importantly, she comes back to the values of local-ness, the authenticity of traditional values and the love of one’s country (and especially of her birthplace, Kyrenia). The pain of losing one’s home, the nostalgia, and also the fighting disposition characterize most of her theatrical work.
The theatrical creation of Rina Katselli, which spreads out into more than fifty years (1959-present), could be schematically divided into the following periods: a) from the late 1950s to the end of the 1960s, b) from the end of the 1960s to 1974, c) from the mid-1970s to the early 2000s, and d) from the beginnings of the 2000s until today.
During the first period, the playwright gradually shapes her individual style in theatrical writing, through theatrical texts inspired by the Struggle of 1955-1959 (i.e. The Cousin: 1959, The Unworthy: 1962) and by the intercommunal conflicts of 1963 (Dr Ahmet Alibey: 1964). During the same period, we also have Rina Katsellis’s first theatrical texts in the style of ethographia (i.e. The Iron Spoon: 1960, Pitsillos: 1962, Sunday Doxology: 1963 etc.), as well as social dramas. In the theatrical texts concerned with the Liberation Struggle we see the behavior of everyday people in an anti-rhetorical way, as they manage to overcome their weaknesses and assist in the Struggle. The value of heroism is demystified and presented realistically as the expression of the people’s will. Dr Ahmet Alibey is a very important theatrical text, both for its theatrical virtues and its topics, like the relationship between Greek-Cypriots and Turkish-Cypriots, the national and religious diversity, and the compassion of the Turkish-Cypriot protagonist who is killed by his compatriots, because he saved Greek-Cypriots from certain death. Moreover, in the ethographic texts of the same period, we can distinguish the trends of contemporary and historical ethographia, with more emphasis on the latter (as observed in the plays Pitsillos: 1962 and PPevlianis: 1966).
Finally, it is important to mention the socially-themed theatrical texts of the first period. In Moribund (1967), a theatrical text about “the futility of the fate of the human race”, as the playwright notes, and about the alienation between people, Rina Katselli implements the interesting technique of “play within a play”, which comes up in her later work and is worth exploring. Through this technique, we observe the issue of atomic energy and the danger of humanity’s total destruction, while on the other hand there is the revelation of the hidden sides in the relationships between the dramatic characters. Another text with a social theme is 35 Aeschylus St. (1963), where we can find nuggets of social critique. In Sunday Doxology (1963), the focus of satire is bigotry and religious tenets; in other words, this theatrical text differentiates itself visibly from the rest of the ethographic texts of the first period, in which the depiction of the ethics of country life is not accompanied by jabs at society.
The second period of Rina Katselli’s dramaturgy (late 1960s-1974) includes, on the one hand, historical texts inspired mainly by the byzantine period, and, on the other one, texts that are more thematically and stylistically promoted, in contrast with the plays of the first period, which are focused on various sides of the modern era, but also on the evils that threaten humanity (alienation, automatization, dehumanization, etc.). A third trend that can be found in the theatrical texts of this period is critical ethographia, since the playwright, while transcending the lighter trend of ethographia of the first period, contrasts the Cypriot countryside with the city, and presents the transition from life in the country to life in the city (cf. the unpublished television script From the Village to the City: 1969).
The playwright’s experimentation with modern theatrical writing is visible in the science fiction satire What the Robot has Put Together (1969), where the playwright deals with the way the invasion of computers in people’s lives affects their relationships and leads to limitations in their freedom. Loneliness as a main problem of the modern era is also dominant in the play Suicide Documents (1968).
In some of the historical theatrical texts of the second period, Rina Katselli reminisces history, in order to shed light on today. For example, in The Slaves (1968), which has been characterized as a “historical social satire”, the ancient slaves are contrasted with the “free” slaves of today, due to the great struggle of the latter to survive in comparison to the former. Conversely, in other historical dramas, i.e. A Priestess, Old Lady Agathe, The Roof (all of them written in 1968), the playwright does not attempt to draw any parallels with the present.
A different thematic area includes theatrical texts of the second era with a contemporary theme, such as And So a New Age Begins (1968), whose main theme is the illusion of the advent of a new age that never comes. In this text, the playwright goes back to the “play within a play” technique, which we can also find in her older work. Contemporary themes are also present in the television play Ten Days in Cyprus (1968), which is interesting in the way it portrays the contrast between country life and the new modern way of life in Cyprus by the end of the 1970s.
During the third period of the playwright’s theatrical creation (1975-2000), we have the co-existence of theatrical texts inspired by the tragedy of 1974 or by the history of Cyprus, with texts concerned with social criticism and the relentless satire of how the Cypriot community came to be. From the texts of the first category, we can point out Blue Whale (Introspection) (1979), whose main theme are the events as lived by a removed family in 1974, right after the Turkish invasion, and the various reflective thoughts of the protagonist. In the same category we have the theatrical text Unslaved Olive Tree (1981), which revolves around the attempt of a removed group of people to set up a theatrical performance. It is really important to study the “play within a play” technique in this text, since it concerns Rina Katselli greatly, as well as the intra-textual issues concerning theatrical writing and the process of transforming reality into theater.
From the dramas of the third period concerned with social criticism, we can distinguish Crazy Grandma (1986), one of Rina Katselli’s most important works, in which she satirizes various sides of the misguided mentality of state employees, as well as the absence of meritocracy, both of which are social issues that are presented in parallel with the ongoing struggle of Cyprus. Moreover, in Foreign Land (1988), using both historical and other sources from the era of English Rule, the playwright examines, through theater, the story of Christodoulos (19th century), who was sentenced to a ten-year exile after committing a sin.
Social criticism and the anatomy of the modern Cypriot reality dominate the fourth period of Rina Katselli’s theatrical creation as well (2000-present); around the same time we also have theatrical texts inspired by the Cypriot tradition. In the first category, we have texts like the unpublished From Sunday to Sunday (1999), which revolves around issues like the instability of human relationships, the exploitation of foreigners, and prostitution, and is one of the most notable works of the playwright, given that it offers adequate theatricality and uses raw realism, and sometimes naturalism, to present the contradictions and the stalemates of modern Cypriot society, while moving away from ethographia.
In the theatrical texts of the last period, which are inspired by folk tradition (The Northern Neighborhood: 1998, Arkastos: 2001, The Goblins of the Third Millennium: 2010), the bitterness for the abandonment of traditional values and the concern for the ecological destruction of the environment are the dominant themes, while satirical jibes and an underlying social criticism are ever present.
Therefore, the dramaturgy of Rina Katselli is based on a multiform, multiway, and multilevel theatrical writing, but this does not downgrade the ideological function of her theatrical work as a whole, as well as its function within the social and political workings of its time. All these parameters, as well as the luck surrounding her texts, both in terms of readership and viewership, which we do not have enough time to refer to, deserve to be studied and analyzed further.
The dates for the theatrical texts of Rina Katselli are given within brackets.
Translated by Rozy Boutou