MARIA EFSTATHIADIS’ THEATRE,
- Matina Kaltaki, Dramaturg – Theatre Critic
[Translation: Elina Palaska]
Maria Efstathiadis' adventures within the realm of writing begin in 1987. As it usually happens, writing derives from reading, and Efstathiadis had a close relationship with books from a young age. She was nurtured by the French language and culture as a child and later on, after she studies political sciences in Athens, she continued her post-graduate studies in Paris (Paris II, D.E.D. political sociology) during the exceptionally interesting, rich in political and social movements, decade of the '70s. Her relationship with the realm of books was close since before she wrote her own. So, in 1979, she assumed the management of "Themelio" bookstore and later on the management of its publishing department. She also was Secretary of the National Book Centre of Greece (2000-2004) and the European Translation Centre.
She starts writing in the '80s. By the end of 1990 her prose writings were published: "Paravates" ("Trespassers" Stigmi publishing, 1987), "To Aorato pu se Kita" ("The Invisible that Stares at You" Gavriilidis publishing, 1993), "Gadia me Cheria" ("Gloves with Hands" Gavriilidis publishing, 1996), "Otan i Dromi" (When the Streets", Olkos publishing, 1998). In the 00's however, even though two more of her prose writings were published ("Sxedon Melo", 2002 ("Almost Corny") and "Utopimata", 2004 ("Utopics") both by Kedros publishing, her interest turns to dramatic literature.
The monologue about an actress and a piano, "Sto Dromo mu enas Agelos" ("An Angel in my Way" Neos Kosmos Theatre publishing, presented in 2002), based on Georgia Sandi's autobiographical and literary work, constitutes something of a passage from prose to playwriting for her. A year later, "Anipakoi" ("Disobedience" Kedros publidhing, 2003) is presented by the National Theatre of Northern Greece. Three more plays followed, "Kokkino Ksenodoxio" ("Red Hotel" Kedros publishing, 2008), "Parisakti" ("Intruders" -the playwright was included in the program of Themelis Glinatis' play in Knot Gallery, 2010) and "Demonas" ("Demon" Kedros publishing, 2010). Last in line are her plays "Textilen" (Sekspirikon publishing, 2014) and "Privatopia" (it has been presented in the form of on stage recital, directed by Maria-Louiza Papadopoulou, 2014).
It is obvious by now, as she herself admits, that theatre has taken over her. After all, one feels as if her prose is about to escape from paper. It is weird that (or is that the actual reason?) her confessing writing looks as if it seeks to be heard from an audience.
Apart from her prose and her plays, Maria Efstathiadis has done an important translating work. Starting with the translation of Erik Satie's and Pierre Klossowski's texts in 1990 , translating a series of mostly French writings, she reaches 2010 and the brilliant translation of Mallarmé's abyssal work "Igitur - A Throw of the Dice will Never Abolish Chance".
As she herself put it in 2014 "Translation is a form of creative reading and writing a form of self translation. As far as I am concerned, the translator has influenced the writer. I am under the impression that no matter what I write and translate, they all constitute one text, and its' episodes supersede one another. They are all different expressions of the same work. The pleasures and sorrows are all the same. I translate for I seek an escape in the works of others. Mostly when I want to write, and do not achieve in doing so, I am over flown with solitude, and that's when translation offers an medicine and a form of apprenticeship. An antidote to the panic of creation. That is how blissful meetings with texts that are familiar occur, or meeting with writers I feel I am related to."
The writer does indeed chose the texts she translates, she involves herself in them, she carries them in her own texts. There are selective relations between her and the writers she translates, on the level of language, form, ideas - mostly on the level of the direction of the changes, that the historic avant-gardes of the 20th century have brought on to the realm of artistic expression. She is concerned with the destruction of the one, the only and the solid subtext and the narration that mimics the "totality" that does not exist. She is concerned with the power that the speech has, to form ways of thinking and acting, to hide and disguise, to suggest, to distort, twist and deceive, to affect the shape of her texts.
This first element that highlights her writing is clearly connected to a second one: the function of memory, that is the perplex way in which we, as human beings store, throughout time, our identity. Efstathiadis uses speech and memory as a method of escape and indicates the versatility of "the real", as a field where the ability to "rupture" the real and substitute it with different versions, is boundless.
However, she does not surrender without a fight to the charming game of self-deception and the deception of others: she utilizes the knowledge and experience of psychoanalytical thinking, to bring to light all the deeply hidden truths. The psychoanalytical dimension of her writing is another element of her theatre.
Finally, another element that is expressed in her texts, is the concept of the stranger, the unfamiliar, the violating, the concept of one who resists the tyranny of normality. And, of course, the escape from the status of repression that is established and imposed by the predominant point of view. "In this indirect way" she says "my texts take on a political dimension, they are statements against the tyranny of the majority, that manages to exclude and treat as scapegoats the small groups of 'different'".
About Maria Efstathiadis' dramaturgy
"Disobedience", "A One act drama in 5 images" is a characteristic sample of Maria Efstathiadis' dramaturgy. It features three characters, a middle-aged man and woman and the Voice, i.e. "a voice off, that represents no age and no sex, that describes in detail the space and directs the couple." The man and the woman (the writer informs us from the start that it appears as if they have spent many years together) follow the directions given by the voice, repeating its' words, in the way it commands them, following the actions it has suggested. Consecutive repetitions of the same phrases and actions construct the "body" of the play. It looks like the rehearsal of a play, dealing with the break-up of a couple, where the "Voice" is the director.
From the 2nd image, however, an on, something changes. "Haltingly at first, substantially and definitively towards the end, the man and the woman disobey the scenic directions and go against the gradually weakening voice off, that hopelessly tries to turn them around. The man and the woman finally decide that there is no point in following the directions to the end, to the final break-up" the writer points out. Release is tangible, even though everyone knows there are landmines all around.
Despite the exact scenic directions, that are included in the voice's speech, "Disobedience" is a play open to different interpretations. A first reading would place it on the spectrum of interpersonal relationships and how the definite principles of the environment we live in affect and form everything, the way we live, talk, fall in love, break up.
It could as easily be treated as a political allegory, where the voice is the status quo, in which the people have learned to trust. Up to the point the constant repetitions of the same old sentences/rules has emptied their meaning, and the voice's word has no more its authoritative power. The roles are cancelled, as the two no longer recognize its power to render meaning. Repetition, this magical, multifunctional notion, functions as a suppressant at first, it subdues, but it gradually weakens and turns against the authority that uses it as a means of enforcement.
"Disobedience" could also be treated as a theatrical theorem: can there be an ideal performance, in which the actors can succeed exactly in what the director meant and imagined, in a perfect synchronization of attribution and understanding of meaning? What is the art of theatre after all (and every form of narration), besides the eternal representation of the impossible?
The phrase "representation of the impossible" leads me to another element of Efstathiadis' dramaturgy, the repetitive motifs, from one play to another. I remind you that "Impossible Representation" is the subtitle of the "Red Hotel", elements of which we encounter in "Intruders" (e.g. During the first acoustic intermezzo, the subject of narration is dissociated to the mother that feels frustrated with her child, and the child that reproduces the frustration, rebelling against her and threatening her "I will leave with Medrano circus." This sentence, in the play "Intruders" is developed during a performance of the circus, in the monologue of the sixth Ghost (someone, during the end, says "To leave, to leave with the company of the renowned Medrano circus - to become an acrobat- ").
Another example: The iron little bed (a symbol of the long lost childhood and everything it defines, for the rest of our lives) that is presented in "Disobedience", and is also present in the outline of the house in Grillet's Jealousy, which she has translated (Smili publishing, 2006). The same bed is also presented in "Red Hotel", as a memory from the dark world of childhood.
In her plays, the voice's role is recurring, always as a protagonist, sometimes coinciding with an authoritative power, sometimes with an all-knowing narrator, sometimes with a fragmented subject of narration. It is a means of riddance of the realistic expectations for plausibility. Efstathiadis is interested in the inner world of human beings, where the undiscovered and unspoken secrets are hidden, the repressed desires, the hidden dark motives. This is why she is so preoccupied with the notion of memory. Speaking of a Voice theatre, referring to the "Red Room" Afroditi Sivatidou writes "What happens in the "Red Hotel" is a representation of the agonizing procedure of writing, in an attempt to speak of the past. There lies a bizarre game of recollection and oblivion and, as time distorts, the voice turns into a whisper" (Contemporary Drama: The Word of Silence" University Studio Press, 2013).
Structure plays an important role in Efstathiadis' dramaturgy, it is a field of constant experimentation. In "Demon", for instant, she posits the "polyphonic monologue" where the voice of one person turns into three, matching Matriosa's three different ages (the twelve year old that commits suicide in Dostoyevsky's "The Possessed"). Dostoyevsky's polyphonic novel inspires Efstathiadis towards a scenic venture about the "lies of confession" - which is, regardless of whether the recipient being a friend, a priest, a psychoanalyst or an audience, a directed narrative, an upfront by necessity devised composition.
What is also interesting is the way she handles the Philoctetes' myth in The Frozen Garden (2006) in an unexpected and yet compatible in every possible way meeting with another of Sophocles' heroes, Ajax, as the two men are perfect examples of defeated beyond the field of battle. In a poetic language, that recalls the ancient tragic language, but in the direction Heiner Müller proposed, drawing materials from a vast field of references (from the talking birds in Greek traditional poetry to the Brechtian theatre -the "epic" digression - and the polysemous cinema of Pier Paolo Pasolini, a director who studied in depth and dealt with Greek tragedy and becomes here the character who finishes the scenic narration off), Efstathiadis' dramaturgy upholds and justifies the critical desiderata of the post-modern style.
Memory, the unspoken secrets and the well hidden thoughts, the intricacy of the ego and factitious nature of reality (each and every one of the basic characters exhibits a different version of their lives and their relationship with others -here, in the domestic field) become, once again, the major, unsolved matters of human nature in her second to last play "Textilen".
On the contrary her last play "Privatopia" moves towards the realm of clear political requests. The "guarded communities" being the triggering event, a phenomenon which reveals many things about the developments of the modern, developed western world and the upper class, that no longer feels safe with the culture of equality and freedom, and becomes isolated for the sake of safety, Efstathiadis stages an epic play with three groups of protagonists: the Ones Inside the Walls, five television panelists and the Ones Outside the Walls (immigrants and homeless people). The immigrants' narrations succeed the delirious insecurities of the Ones Inside the Walls, in a comparison of two totally alienated worlds that coexist next to each other.
And this is where the experimentations on the structure (the advertisements, the show's sign, the simulation of a television panel are included here) are forward and edgy, and the scenic realism is cancelled by the immigrants' narrations and the poetic comments of the character, who is described as "the One who Walks."
Maria Efstathiadis' theatre is evolving and ripening, constantly seeking and trying new combinations of materials and devices in stage compositions, and at the same time insisting on the complex poetic relation of the language-Voice and its capability inside and outside the stage.