There is no shortage ofproductions of theater, modern and ancient Greek and from around the world,every summer in Greece. Athens is the epicenter with a strong magnetic pulltowards Epidaurus. The largest producer of events is thus named theAthens-Epidaurus Festival. Epidaurus, with the largest and most famous theatrehas only a handful of performances largely because of the delicate condition ofthe venue. It makes up for that by the large numbers of spectators it canaccommodate, more than 10,000 per performance.
But the good news is that everyproduction that is shown a couple of times at Epidaurus goes on a tour tosmaller cities around Greece so if you missed it in Epidaurus, you may be ableto catch in, say, Thessaloniki, if you happen to be there on the right dates. Icaught a performance of Aeschylus’ Oresteia on Αugust 26 and 27, 2019 at the TheatroDassous.
The trilogy is performed over twonights with Agamemnon for the first night and the Libation Bearersand Eumenides on the second night. Different directors areassigned to each play and the result is interesting but uneven. I consideredthe Libation Bearers as the most successful with the Eumenidesthe least praiseworthy of the three. They all have their virtutes but somehad more fine points than others.
Agamemnon isdirected by Io Voulgaraki with Evi Saoulidou as Clytemnestra. The large playingarea of the Theatro Dassous has only a square, wooden scaffold in the centrewith a cracked mask mounted on it for a set. There are some people entering and exiting the playing area before theplay begins with one of the most famous scenes in all drama. It is the Watchman(Stelios Iakovidis) who is sitting on the roof of Agamemnon’s palace waitingfor a signal that the Trojan War is over. The signal will come from beacons litat strategic points between Troy and Argos. That is what Clytemnestra hasdevised so that she will be informed pronto of the end of the war andthe return of her husband Agamemnon. She has something in store for him.
Clytemnestra is a complex characterwho must welcome the returning hero Agamemnon who is bringing Cassandra as his wartrophy and bears responsibility for the sacrifice of his daughter Iphigeneia atAulis. Clytemnestra has taken on a lover, her husband’s cousin Aegisthus(Alexandros Logothetis), and the two have been plotting the murder ofAgamemnon. Saoulidou does superb work inshowing Clytemnestra as a powerful character able to dominate, pretend towelcome her husband and then killing him in his bath.
Cassandra is a tragic figure. Shewas Apollo’s mistress who gave her the gift of prophesy. She has becomeAgamemnon’s slave and mistress and she knows her fate and the fate of everyone else.Despina Kourti is regal, tragic and outstanding in the role.
Agamemnon is a relatively minorcharacter but Argyris Xafis brings out his arrogance in a good performance.
The Chorus as usual plays a majorrole in the play and constitutes a major problem for the director. In this playit is made up of the elders of Argos who were not sent off to the war in Troy.Voulgaraki uses various methods for their delivery of their lines. They speakin unison, separately and chant. She provides a clarinet obbligato for a shortstretch and otherwise gives us a reasonably good rendition of an almostimpossible task.
The Libation Bearersis performed together with the Eumenides the following night,directed by Lilly Meleme and I think is the most effectively done of the threeplays.
Years after the murder of Agamemnon,Orestes returns to Argos under orders from Apollo to avenge his father’s death.He meets his sister Electra at his father’s grave and the plot develops untilClytemnestra is killed.
The Chorus is made up of Argivewomen, dressed in black dresses with trains. Monika Erika Kolokotroni providessome astute and fitting choreography and movements for the Chorus. Meleme andKolokotroni do not allow the Chorus to remain static but make it part of theplot development so that it is involved even during dialogues. There is a good varietyin speaking and chanting and in the end the Chorus becomes a major contributorto the high quality of the production.
Giannis Niarros presents Orestes asa young man with a mission to commit perhaps the worst crime imaginable butpushed by divine edict and encouraged by his friend Pylades (Giorgos Stamos).Orestes is joined by his sister Electra (Maria Kitsou) who gives an emotionalspeech during the recognition scene with her brother. In addition to them, hehas the encouragement of the Chorus and his old Nurse (Agoritsa Ikonomou).
Orestes needs to fool the wilyand suspicious Clytemnestra of Filareti Komninou and manage to get her loverAegisthus (Giorgos Chrysostomou) back to the palace alone. Komninou must begracious, tough, delighted at the death of her son Orestes without revealing itand a master of emotional blackmail. How can you kill your mother from whosebreast you were fed as a baby? She begs for her life but it does not work andhe kills her.
With proper choreography and useof the Chorus and a fine cast Meleme produces a fine-tuned and well-paced production.
I wish I could say the same forthe Eumenides as directed by Georgia Mavragani with DramaturgicalAdvisor Dimosthenis Papamarkos.
The Eumenides are the reformedErinyes or Furies who pursue Orestes to punish him for the murder of hismother. We find him at Delphi where the Furies have pursued him. The priestessPythia appears to pray. She finds Orestes and notices the Furies sleeping, having been knocked out by Apollo.
The ghost of Clytemnestra appearsand goads the Furies to do their job and punish Orestes. But he has beenspirited away to Athens by his defender Apollo. He goes to the Acropolis to prayto Athene. Everything that he has done has been in obedience of Apollo.
What follows is the first jurytrial with Athenian citizens asked to decide on Orestes’ guilt or innocenceafter hearing evidence. The trial is as much a dramatic event as a paean toAthens for the development of a system of justice. Politics and drama blend.
That is a very brief outline ofthe plot of Eumenides. Attempting to follow it in the productionis very trying. You go to the cast list before the performance begins seekingthe names of the characters and the actors. Forget it. Mavragani simply liststhe names of the actors in alphabetical order and good luck in figuring out whorepresents whom.
The main characters of the playare the furious and relentless Furies who are prepared to defy the gods intheir pursuit of Orestes. Mavragani and choreographer Alexia Nikolaou presentmore a muddle than a clear role for the Chorus. The furious ghost ofClytemnestra is effective but after that clarity is evasive.
Mavragani and her dramaturgicaladvisor divide the play into some sixteen scenesplus or minus an Introduction and an Exit. Each scene is announced. Two or moreactors deliver the lines of one character at times and the pace is slowed downto a crawl and clarity goes by the board. In the end, this is a deeplydisappointing production.
The Oresteia is basedon the great myth of the curse of the House of Atreus. The murders come to anend and in the Eumenides a system of justice is established forthe House of Atreus and for Athens. Aeschylus’s trilogy has resonated acrossthe centuries and is invariably judged as one of the greatest masterpieces of Westerndrama. The political idea of trials by jury has also survived.
Agamemnon by Aeschylus was performed on August 26, 2019. The Libation Bearers and Eumenides were performed on August 27, 2019 all at the Theatro Dassous, Thessaloniki. www.n-t.gr