•  Eleftheria Raptou, Theatrologist and PhD candidate of Architecture, NTUA

The Persistent Quest of Dramatic Substance


Marios Pontikas’ work constitutes a diverse and multi-dimensional criticism of the - modern and postmodern - political and cultural Greek condition. Moreover, it formulates a vibrant theatrical mosaic of the Greek society, which extends from the post-civil war period to the current, critical times. Through his dramatic texts, the playwright delineates an era of deep and subversive abeyance, one where certainties of any kind are overturned and replaced by opportunistic synapses and ideological structures, with the sole aim of serving opportunistic interests and goals.

Marios Pontikas does not exhaust its dramaturgical intentions in first-level general political attitudes and social behavior; it is even possible that the dramatist remains totally disinterested to easily interpretable dictums and ascertainments. However, what emerges as a main concern is the on-stage expression of queries related to everyone's personal attitude towards history and towards the fellow man. The individual’s moral responsibility towards his very existence is, indeed, one of the most agonizing issues on which the dramatist focuses. Is, however, Pontikas a moralist? Absolutely not. Although he aims at demonstrating the ideological and productive models that constructed the Greek society and, at the same time, formed the basis for its carcinomatous, entirely malignant mutation, Pontikas refuses to indicate what is "right". In his plays (like, for example The Spectators or Rationale) and through his method of negative dialectics, he doesn't hesitate to throw light, in the darkness that lurks behind the seeming happiness and bourgeois security. Taking either the part of the "winners", the powerful and the socially acclaimed, or of the poor followers that serve the system, he skillfully undermines the force and their certainties, sarcastically revealing the weaknesses of every reigning model.

Pontikas belongs in the generation of Greek dramatists that experienced firsthand and listened to the dynamics of major political narratives, the relentlessness of ideological conflicts, the brutality of the interests that divide peoples and disintegrate them socially, mentally, morally and - finally - physically. Vivid memories from the post-civil war period, the turbulent ' 60s, and the political changeover are prefigured in parables in Pontikas’ plays. The end of the great narratives, the parallel and multiple reading of the actual and potential, and the fragmentation and conversion of the collective subject into solitary persons that only occasionally coexist are prefigured and foretold in his works. His dramaturgical materials "converse" with the adventure of the political changeover, the mutation of Greek society and economy, the implications, loans and chasms of the Greek cultural scene.

From his earlier plays (The Panoramic View of a Night Work, The Cheese and the Mousetrap, Spectators, Internal News, Trombone etc.) to the most recent and iconoclastic (Laius’ Murderer and the Crows, Cassandra Addresses the Dead, Neighing), realistic - almost fiercely naturalistic – elements are interspersed with the surrealistic ones, overturned by parody, irony, the untold and the dual coding imposed by vision - or rather the gaze upon the on-stage subjects. Men and women, bourgeois and proletarians, mythical or 'historical ' figures, rulers and oppressed; they all see and give meaning to one another or sink into oblivion (like it happens in The Wedding and Lot’s Wife). Under the public's gaze, the persons multiply and become symbols of the culturally dominant; that which runs through and determines the recipients of the theatrical event. In this complex process where the theater multiplies spaces, meanings, and substances, Pontikas manages a dynamic mapping of existence and the historical subject, seeking shadows and light, and dissecting onstage bodies and beliefs.

In Spectators, The Wedding, Lot’s Wife and Neighing, the body is the most convincing picture of the subject’s inner turmoil and identity split; in Spectators, the peddler is crippled. While he considers himself one of the fighters and winners of the civil war, an underlying doubt manifests in the course of the play. He who killed to avoid becoming a communist implores the Power that he served, for a trading permit, in order to live "decently". The Power reserves for him the role that always stored for her servants: she exploits him, counting on his need, the frailness of an amputated body, and an ideologically weak mind. His wife "sets him free” by thrusting a pair of scissors into his heart, cutting her wrists immediately after. The neighbor secretly observes what is happening, commenting the others’ plight from the sidelines, with movements, words and 'evil' bodily gestures.

In The Wedding a girl is raped; her body is irreparably hurt and her soul is mutilated. She ends up setting herself on fire. Could this be an act of extreme resistance against social hypocrisy? With her whole body wrapped in gauze,  sitting in a gynecologists’ chair, silent, she is in the forefront of the stage -  oddly akin to Angelika Festa’s performance, Untitleddance (withfishandothers). The de-textualization of the physical existence and the show through the "invisible" presence, testify to the author’s persistence on the importance of the body on the stage and the utterly modern approach that he reserves for his material.

In Lot's Wife, the rape of the body and the punishment for an incestuous relationship is the invisible, handicapped child that his father strangles in the unseen room of an underground apartment. The subject’s eclipse is accomplished with a leap into madness.

On the other hand, in Neighing, the leading character is the Centaur Chiron, half man and half horse. In a non-place setting that simulates Hades, the Centaur’s body is bisected; the human part is separated from the animal, with the second one being autonomous and having its own consciousness. Chiron, however, undergoes yet another mutilation; from a knowledge-exchange system – and, of course, as a carrier of knowledge – the language becomes an instrument of torture that - figuratively - kills the creature’s rational nature. Everything takes place in a “heterotopia” par excellence. The Centar’s dual body of is a “de-naturalized naturalness ', an incomprehensible and at the same time intolerable reality which defines the ambiguous nature of the stage, if one accepts that the possession and the existence of a body is a spatial act in itself.

The stage in Pontikas’ plays - sometimes conventional others more open to design experimentation - is the place where people function as live exhibits, as reminders of experiences that compose the map of human history; a story of love, death, joy, memory, oblivion, grief, desire and bewilderment, repeated hopelessly and in various versions. It is perceived from the audience as a constant procedure of fabrication and dislocation of places and persons. The characters’ bodies are not only the physical manifestation of the persons, but also bearers of aesthetic and political load. It is often the desperate vocalization of the weak, a visible incision in the established regulatory system. These weak-strong people are neither absolved nor condemned in the author’s dramatic universe. The innate unpredictability and perceptive doubt that characterize Pontikas’ writing haunt his characters, and at the same time prevent a severe judgment of their acts and the vertical distribution of ethical loads.

In his plays, however, he obsessively underlines the individual's responsibility for his choices; personal choices that always have a social but especially political sign, strange though this may sound in today’s world.

[Translation Elena Delliou]