•  Maria Sehopoulou, Doctor of Theatre Studies University of Athens

Alexis Stamatis, the playwright: the internal life of the heroes

His capacity as a playwright is the most recent one in the rich curriculum of the multifarious personality of Alexis Stamatis, following a remarkable appearance in prose. He first appears in Greek literature, in 1992, as a poet and then he turns his interest towards the writing of fictions, novels, narrations and children’s literature. Although his first theatrical monologue Last Martha was written in 2003, on the occasion of the Cultural Olympiad, his writing for the theatre will basically take place during the time of crisis.  In 2008, after Last Martha, he will write two more one-act monologues, The Errant Boy and The Mirror under the title “Genesis”. In the following years, he will write a great number of plays for the theatre all of which will be performed on stage. In 2010, Dakrygona will be staged (Tear Gas), in 2012 Kill your darlings and Melissia, in 2013 Midnight in a Perfect World. In the same year he will also participate in experimental theatre playwrights, such as the “24 Hour Plays Athens” and the episodic play Exodos (Exit). His most recent play is Innerview, which was staged, in 2013, as a one-act play in London, but this is a work-in-progress multi-act play.

In his theatrical writing, Stamatis has a fierce flow of speech which is delivered in brief sentences, often in orality. Generally, he uses an informal language with no aesthetic elements. His heroes do not gabble – even though they sometimes seem to philosophize. Nevertheless, their speech, even if it is simple and informal, hides the truths they themselves want to discover but without revealing them to the rest of the people.

Just as a train of thought which does not reduce its speed despite the fact it often changes rails because of many reversals, likewise the heroes of Stamatis live rich internal lives that undergo changes which constantly distort the truth of their own reality. Before a deceptive regularity or an uninterrupted norm of repetition, Stamatis’ heroes take a look at their lives on crucial moments. “Every human being has a limit, a limit break”. (The Errant Boy); and it is exactly on those moments the playwright sets the action of his plays.

Furthermore, his heroes are often directly connected with the art; they themselves are art creators; sometime authors or directors, reflecting –in some way- aspects of the character of the playwright himself in his plays. However, those heroes who have no contact with the art are not afraid of the self-reference; they do not fear their subjectivism. “It is about things that most of the people in the world experience. They are, as it is said, daily things, which if they are compared with the ones of other people, my things might be nothing, but they are mine, my own experiences; they are all I have and if they upset me, this is my norm and according to this I will be judged”, says the heroine of the monologue Mirror. But the autobiography is not the only way to self-reference. Such as the hero-writer in Midnight in a Perfect World, likewise the bedridden writer in Melissia recalls a similar event; a tragic event of another person becomes the material that helps them to write, ‘stealing’, without second thoughts, some moments from the life of that person in order to be able to write.

In his first play, Last Martha, Alexis Stamatis sketches the personality of his hero in such an enlightening way that skillfully connects the past with the present. During the desperate monologue of the hero, the causes of his lonely life become clear; decisive events, internal process of his personality structure; father abandonment, the idealization of his mother, her long lasting disease later on; his own devotion to the care of the bedridden patient and the lack of contact with his Alzheimer patient mother; the cowardice of the young age; his voluntary giving up of his dream on painting and the replacement of the big dream with the safe choice of becoming the guardian of Konstantinos Parthenis’ work of art ‘The Christ’; the religious obsessions and the internal fight with his sexual urges; afterwards, his occasional sexual relationships with prostitutes that alternate one another but without ever changing identity in his eyes; the quest of the internal balance among the level order and the spotless neatness of a secret life; everything aims at shaping his psychopathology. The desperate seeking of his shaken mind has recourse to the invention of hidden meanings concerning unexpected instances of the unending, inextricable, repetitive daily life he experiences. The haberdasher of the neighborhood that has a shop with the fateful– for the hero -name “The Delphi” finally becomes a real oracle and a guardian-angel that guides him in life like a father. Living constantly in isolation, the hero moves into his own invented world of interactions, important contacts and unbreakable links with his surroundings. But at the crucial moment, the hero is directly led to the crime, without being able neither to understand nor get away from the defense mechanisms he, on his own, has created and preserved during a whole life.

The two subsequent one-act monologues, The Errant Boy and The Mirror are independent, even though they will be staged together and be part of a dramatic unity under the title “Genesis”. In both of them, there is reference in sex, age, identity as well as the moment of a death or after a delivery. Nevertheless, their conjoint performance on stage is not accidental; the two heroes meet each other long after the incident, but it is interesting the way they perceive what they expect: the death as a birth and the birth as a death.

In  The Errant Boy, there are references both to the unforgettable film  of Coppola ‘Apocalypse now’ and to the book of Joseph Conrad “Heart of Darkness”, the one-act monologue of Stamatis might be a fictitious sequence of the film plot based on the question:”What happened, therefore, to Willard after his fatal meeting with Kurtz?” The answer is that Willard will become just like Kurtz, expecting in his turn the man that will be assigned to murder him, offering him a relief ending. As the plot develops, the hero gradually recalls his route and his fateful acquaintance with Kurtz. But, he is also thinking of the way he, himself, will be finally sunk in the depths of horror while seeking for the absolute. The recycling of human pain is filtered in The Errant Boy through the atrocity of the war, but, at the same time, it is presented a peculiar relation of initiation and exchange of roles between a father and a son.

In The Mirror, the spectator sees the shaken internal monologue of his heroine, bedridden in a hospital, still weak, thinking about the fateful steps that brought her to that situation. The facts arising from the unwinding of her thought gradually reveal their role. Meanwhile, the spectator becomes aware of her desperation arising from her decision to give her newly-born baby for adoption. The shades of love and death, the symbols of transition from the birth of love to the death of love and then to the delivery of the child and afterward to a new death caused by the separation, because of the adoption, all the above acquire ontological dimensions for Stamatis’ heroine.

Unlike Willard, in The Errant Boy, the hero of the monologue Midnight in a Perfect World neither succeeds in relieving of the horror he hides inside him nor conciliates with it, although he can recognize it. What basically impels him is the playwright’s anxiety to find inspiration. He tries to draw the material for his new play from his taped reminiscences, even from the most painful and personal ones; all those reminiscences he avoided to handle for a long time. His taped diary with narrations from the past turns into an adamant interlocutor with his current, middle-aged self, reminding him of Krapp's Last Tape of Beckett. And in case a past, happy moment is revived, this is also covered by the “Experiences in Grief because of Aging” that has already touched him.

In Dakrygona, an unexpected acquaintance of a middle-aged man with an insensitive, twenty-five-year-old young woman during the incidents of a march takes place. The man decides to take her to his place and this is the start of a story in which both characters keep concealing their secrets; there is a kind of self-interest behind their apparently accidental acquaintance. Their need for contact disappears when the truth of each character is revealed. This disclosure blows up like a figurative tear gas that causes the literal tears of their personal frustration. The real tear gases of conflicts, though, caused by the crisis that has affected the city, keep falling.

Stamatis handles prose and his plays as communicating vessels and this connection becomes first discernible in Kill your darlings that is written both as a prose and a play. But even what connects these two masterpieces never stops to exist, the final result differs significantly, with variations, not only to the development of the plot, to the time and place, but also to the structure of the characters and the way of the protagonists and the secondary characters are presented. But the title Kill whatever you love is still a reference (immediate reference to “Kill your darlings” of Faulkner presented as a suggestion towards the writers); a kind of security that finally ends up being a nightmare that haunts; a way to release from one’s conveniences.

Melissia is a play which has many characters. In the five scenes of the play, there are six characters gathered as a family and utter the reasons of their unhealthy bonds. Around the bed of a seriously ill, almost dying mother-artist, the broken bridges of contact of its members reflect the problems in family relations, the sentimental wounds and the loneliness they experience. But what is seen during the three intermediate scenes changes completely in the last one; it brings the plot back in the first scene. The borderline between the real life of the elder woman, her mistakes and improprieties and the imaginary world of the creations from her autobiographical books generates imaginary facts, which cannot offer her the desired vindication and salvation of her choices.    

The Innerview, just as its title indicates, is basically an insight, but also a distorted definition of the English word “Interview”. The latter is the most recent play. In 2013, it was presented as a one-act play, but it is a work-in-progress, a three-act play that has not yet been structured and concentrates a lot of Stamatis’ motifs in dramaturgy. The view: “human nature has something monstrous inside her” comes back along with the question: “How can a person remain a good person when everything around him falls apart?” “Good. I was never good. I am not good. Not good. Goodness is something that is related to a great number of people. A person can be good only if there are a lot of people.  Apart from the certainty in the obscure, inner aspect of human nature, as well as the question about ‘Kalos kagathos’, which we might translate as "handsome and brave", in Stamatis’ work there is always a preoccupation concerning the artist’s behavior. “It is our job to hide the monster we have inside us. To have it in repression. To live with it, to sleep with it and take care of it”, says the hero-writer of the play.

In Stamatis’ plays, the act often comes first. The words recreate it. The spectator gradually recomposes, using short and fragmentary verbal landscapes, the action that precedes; the revelations are unraveled as the plot develops. In the first act of Innerview, the driver of a huge elevator narrates the facts that have taken place. The couple he accompanies comes down, through a futuristic but worn out elevator, possibly to an expressionist underneath world. The second scene interrupts the plot to create a new reality; “theatrou en theatro”, which may be translated as a play performed in a play; a reality of a second level scene; an ‘Aristophanes parabasis’, during which the actor divests himself of the mask of his role. From the monologic dialogue of the first act, we are taken to the intense dialogue and dispute, listening to the guidance of a director to his actor; guidance that sheds light to the configuration of what has come first but with a new correlation. In the third act, which is the core of the play, the feminine figure-journalist, on the pretext of the interview she is prepared to take from the director, reinforces the monologic dialogue. Having as a background the crisis of the time, the questions made by the journalist tend to function in a threefold level: as regards the general situation and the seeking for ways out and freedom; with reference to the personal crisis according to an artist and how he experiences it; and finally, with reference to the interpersonal level that arises from a past romantic acquaintance between the journalist and the director that remained unfulfilled, creating questions, but also the desire of the journalist to meet again the director on the pretext of the interview.

‘The vertical text’, the subtext; when we want to say something, but we say something else, functions as the ‘tip of an iceberg’, as an enormous desire from which you can “only see a little tip”. Similarly, all the theatrical heroes of Stamatis, being in need to find a meaning in the important moments they experience, deal with a truth that in the end goes round these same facts and is concealed in their internal world.

The outline of the crisis in Greece is discernible in a lot of Stamatis’ plays, but without being the core of his texts. His personal seeking exceeds common reality. He rather uses the latter as a basis or a starting point to end up at regrettable assumptions. “The word freedom means: ‘what will follow’. The root of the word comes from the ancient Greek word ‘eleuthisomai’; future tenses of the verb ‘come’. Therefore, freedom will never come. You will never experience it. You will live waiting for it”.

[Translation: Anastasia Mandeki]