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Or how laughter diminishes distances


[Translation: Elina Palaska]

Thanasis Papathanasiou and Michalis Reppas' writing duo started off shyly with numbers on freelance theatre revues, to continue baldly and fruitfully in the years to follow. During the twenty odd years they prevail in the show business, they HAVEundertake playwriting and direction successfully. Their first successes will occur on TV and theatre, and they will extend across the big screen.

They will write some of the most profitable comedies of modern Greek theatre, like Baba Rum (1996), In-laws from Tirana (2008), Babies Are Brought by the Stork (2002), Raus (2010) and Ladies' Night (2012). They have recieved Karolos Kuhn award for their most bitter comedy, Evros Across (1999).

Their personal stigma is formed through comedy that combines farce, satire, social critique and existential drama. Tracing the steps of Greek dramaturgy, from the 60's and on, they have depicted in a poignant yet humorous way the pathogeneses of the Greek family, and by extension the Greek society, focusing on the modern Greek type of person, who goes after the quick buck. The brother-in-law duet motif from Dimitris Keihanis’ Backgammon (1972) became the archetype around which they created their own duets Baba Rum and In-laws from Tirana.

From 1990 and on, with the vast turnout of economic immigrants from the former Eastern Bloc countries, the foreigner’s notion acquires negative connotations within the Greek society. The foreigners that arrive at our country bring with them, apart from poverty and the need for survival, a culture unfamiliar to us. The Greek society proves that it is not prepared to accept the new element and incorporate it easily. Reppas-Papathanasiou want to comment on and highlight exactly this through their plays, this adjustment difficulty, this undercurrent of racism, as they name it.

Their approach is comical and easygoing, but at the same time undergroundly “murderous”. In Baba Rum the Bulgarian house-keeper takes care of the old father, marries him and she lays claim to the family fortune. In In-laws from Tirana the Albanian boyfriend arrives to upset the family’s expectations of the daughter that has just come back form studying in London. In Evros Across  the Kurdish immigrant is attacked by racists and takes shelter in a group of small time hustlers who try strike it rich. Finally, in Babies are Brought by the Stork, the Jewish fugitive returns to his family home to hide and find new tenants in it.

Even though the duo’s method of success lies in comedy, they will try different roads of expression. In Homelands (2012) they will speak of the theme of the immigrant once more, creating a document-play based on testimonials of Greeks who have immigrated in America and Germany during the beginnings of the 20th century, as well as testimonials of three illegal Muslim immigrants in the Athens of crisis. Here the form changes, comedy gives way to agony, fear and nostalgia. Homelands remind contemporary Greeks of their past and bring them face to face with their present.  

The foreigner’s theme is linked to diversity and the presence of “the other”, another theme the duo chooses to approach in a comic matter. In Skirt Shirt, yet another hilarious comedy, the topic of sex reassignment surgery will be addressed. After 17 years of absence the father is introduced to his son as a woman. The family’s balances will be shaken.

The current economic crisis and its cultural extensions will put the ailing Modern Greek in the centre of attention. Therefore, in Attica Highway (2009), which will be named play of the year by Athinorama magazine, the weight will be placed on the everyday type of person, his hustles, the economic crisis’ middle-class, which struggles to balance within the new predicaments. The contemporary middle class person has evolved from the simple folk people that prevailed in the era of urbanisation and building granting. This person, having taken a leading role in authority and business layers, now has to find the answers to the dead-ends of the economic bubble.

The troubled middle-class hero in Raus will ally with his distant relative, the luben type, to snatch the state grant, presenting a whorehouse he owns in a neoclassical building, as a cultural centre. The comment here is obvious: every time the Greek finds it rough, he will first turn cunning, then smart.

The crisis’ theme will return in their next play, Ladies’ Night, where a group of newly poor Greeks follow the example of the characters in the movie Full Monty (1997). They organize a striptease night to save the café of a friend, who is about to close it down due to debt.

Summing up, we could say that Thanasis Papathanasiou and Michalis Reppas’ comedies are political, in the way Aristophanes’ comedies are political. They are addressed to civilians who, being active members of society, affect with their choices and behaviors those around them. Papathanasiou-Reppas address through their work, issues that pretty much affect us all. Through their characters’ passions and adventures they place a mirror and invite us to look at our reflection. And they succeed in that, offering us a great deal of laughter, as they are convinced that “in theatre, through the outburst of laughter and the salvation of pathos, we acquire a distance from out personal interests and –even for a few moments- we touch and feel for each other”.