REVIEW OF 2019 ATHENS FESTIVAL PRODUCTION
When the performance of Suppliants begins at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus inAthens, we hear slow, throbbing, funereal music and nine women dressed in blackenter slowly, wailing. There are no words, just a simple eeeeeehhh. The womenare the mothers of the Argive chieftains who were killed when theyunsuccessfully attacked Thebes. Creon, the autocrat of Thebes, is refusing togive the bodies to the mothers so they can give them a proper burial.
Suppliants isanother chapter in the woes of the Royal House of Thebes. You will recall thatKing Oedipus inadvertently killed his father and married his mother. On findingout what he had done, he blinded himself and left the kingdom to his sonsEteocles and Polyneices. The brothers had a falling out and Polyneices eventuallygot help from Argos and with six other chieftains attacked the seven gates ofThebes. Polyneices and his allies were all killed as well as Eteocles. Thatleft Creon in charge and possession of Thebes. It is here that Suppliants begins.
The production under review is a joint effort by the National Theatre ofGreece and the Cyprus Theatre Organization and stands as an example of AncientGreek Tragedy at its best.
It provides what can be done with imaginative use of the Chorus. DirectorStathis Livanthinos and Choreographer Fotis Nikolaou make outstanding use ofthe group. The simple lament expressed at the opening of the performance is notindicated in the text. The play begins with a lengthy speech by Aethra (KatiaDandoulaki), the mother of Theseus (Akis Sakellariou), who gives backgroundinformation and sets the stage for the play.
In addition to the simple but effective choreography of Nikolaou, theproduction benefits from the music of Angelos Triandafyllou. He has composed moving lamentations that are sungwith superb expressiveness by the Chorus. The women can sing, and their chantsare a major part of the success of the production.
Theseus is the king of Athens and is supplicated, indeed begged by themothers to rescue their sons’ bodies so they can give them proper burial. He isarrogant to the point of rudeness and questions King Adrastus of Argos about thewisdom of his people’s involvement in the attack on Thebes in support of one ofOedipus’s sons. Sakellariou, dressed in pure white, his arm stuck up in the airwhen he orates, is the epitome of youthful haughtiness.
King Adrastus is essentially a man who has been defeated and humiliatedas a result of some serious errors. He is desperately trying to maintain somepride and dignity. Christos Sougaris does a fine job as the pathetic king.
There is a Messenger (Andreas Tselepos) who tries to outdo Theseus inarrogance and argumentativeness and a Herald (Harris Charalambous) whose job itis to bring the good news of Theseus’s victory over the Thebans and my goodnesshe is eager to do it.
Notably fine acting is displayed by Doundoulaki who shows sympathy forthe bereaved women and is able to stand up to her conceited son and beinstrumental in changing his mind.
Suppliants is notone of Euripides’ best plays and he seemed to be running out of material nearthe end and may have padded a bit. There is a melodramatic scene with Iphis(Thodoris Katsafados), the father of Evadne (Katerina Loura). The latter givesa dramatic performance when she appears near the end of the play in a bridalgown and goes to the funeral pyre to burn with the remains of her husband.
We then hear a beautiful ode sung by the children of the slain chieftains.The choir is in the audience and they stand up and sing from their seats. Quitebeautiful.
As is if that were not enough, the goddess Athene drops in to tell us tolove Athens. Theseus has already told us how great Athens is as a democracycompared to the autocracy of Creon. In fact the play has a decidedly politicalangle. The ancient myth of the Royal House of Thebes meets the present (422 B.C)as the city-states are involved in a brutal civil war that will destroy them.Euripides wants to praise Athens and he does.
The costumes are basically modern. The women of the chorus wear blackdresses and Aethra in a white robe with a red dress looks stylish.
The stage has indications of stumps of burned trees with one of them seton a mound. That will serve as the symbolic pyre on which Evadne is burned.
I have nothing but praise for a brilliantly conceived and superblyexecuted production.
Suppliants by Euripides in a coproduction by the NationalTheatre of Greece and the Cyprus Theatre Organization in a translation by Giorgos Koropoulis wasperformed on September 5, 2019 at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, Athens, Greece.