PANAGIOTIS MENTIS'S THEATRE,
- George P. Pefanis, Associate Professor of Theater Theory and Philosophy in the Department of Theater Studies at the University of Athens
[Translation Elena Delliou]
Since 1993 when his first work was staged and until today, Panagiotis Mentis is a constant presence in Greek playwrighting.
The thematic foci of his dramaturgy are love, family life, homo homini lupus, the degeneration of the social fabric, climbing and meta-pratism, solitude, and death. Despite the constant changes and the rapid technological developments in our society, there are certain problems of the human existence that are everlasting.
The recurring pattern that one can easily discern is that of the mother-spider, who converts the affection and daily care for her children into oppression and suffocation. In Anna, I Said (1996), Sofia is a rigorous and suffocating presence for her family. She has pushed her husband aside, and – even posthumously – oppresses her daughter, in order for her to fit into the mould of a conservative propriety. Identical to Sofia are Athina – the mother in Secret Wound –, Leta – the mother in Reality and Show (1997) – and also Patra – the mother figure of Save (1997) who confronts everyone around her in a hysterical manner. There is always an old wound that is eating away at these women, making them ruthless and voracious. The only motherly figure that does not adhere to this rule is Filio in Women at Sea (2004).
Other important elements in Mentis’ dramaturgy are murder and death. The playwright rarely omits the murderous act in his works. In Foreighners (2002), for example, the family’s youngest son dies. In Playmobil (1993), the industrialist is killed by Nino at the last moment; in Secret Wound Socrates chokes Andreas, and in Striptease (1998) Nikos kills Sabrina. Murder provides us with the final and most powerful climax. Being an extreme and senseless act, it does not occur suddenly, but hatches on the dialogues’ subtrate. Mentis’ characters do not have the hard core of death as a starting point, but the damaged relations between partners; this is why their course is so long, moving past the erotic betrayal, dishonesty and disgust, until it reaches death.
Mentis employs a tough and sharp language at times, like Pontikas, Skourtis, Dialegmenos, Tsikliropoulos or Euthimiadis; however, he gradually creates his own style, as he delves deeper and deeper into his characters. His style is primarily realistic, maintaining a high degree of plausibility with frequent references to the external reality of modern urban society, criticizing it and often treating it with a combative mood. His characters are usually familiar and the situations easily identifiable but not unilateral. In none of his plays is there a sense that the social reality is given and irreversible.
Mentis’ realism does not belong in the writing of recurrence. On the contrary, he seeks the familiar speech and its silences, their speculations and innuendos, the dramatic gesture, the ethos and the mark of the Greek social structure. At the same time, he has also taken important steps away from realism with Red Women, as the incisions of psychoanalytic tones and the fairytale references and analogies transfer the reader to a different landscape, where the realistic element – if not lost altogether – only constitutes the guise of things.
The use of montage also has an impact in the shaping of the style, especially as far as the emergence of the same topics examined through different angles, the dramatic economy and the shortening of the time are concerned. In Save, for example, the montage is combined with the function of the narrator, playing a decisive role in the formation of the rhythm. In Anna, I Said! as well as in Cumparsita, it emerges as an almost dominant principle, since it establishes the tempo and pace along with the spatial and character rotations, and delineates the key lines of the biographical mosaic. The dramatic forms are now more elliptical, the action space more vague and the atmosphere more abstract, although the language remains realistic. The time that is formed through the montage in Anna, I said and To Alexandroupolis has a retroactive direction (flash back), while towards the end of the first part of Cumparsita it unfolds in a synchronicity, in which past and present are tied with the same sense of life and are equally active and alive.
Mentis is an "open" writer who recognizes his weaknesses and learns from them, because he works conscientiously and diligently. Sometimes he does not succeed in hiding his sadness or anger with what is happening in the social life, allowing his characters to either take a clear ideological stand, or be prematurely removed from a rich thematic centre. He does not indulge in easiness; he will, like every genuine creator, focus on the difficulties, in order to improve his technique and promote his quests. He is characterized by a modesty found in talented people and an inspired writing for the Greek theatre; these are the two elements that will allow him to further develop his unexploited so far virtues of his writing, like – in my opinion – his ironic pen – evident in the foreign titles of his plays – and his jocularity. However, his dramaturgy is not exhausted in his capacity to carefully dissect the social fabric and the individual attitudes, or in the social typology and mental landscaping: between the lines of Mentis’ texts and behind the undertones, there are some figures, some ghosts of his consciousness that have not yet manifested.