•  Sissi Papathanasiou, Art Historian - Dramaturg

On Absence or

Notes on the dramaturgy of Antonis and Konstantinos Koufalis


                                                                                                           [translation: Elena Delliou]


"Not everyone can see the truth,

but everyone can be the truth ... "

F. Kafka


With a poetic, rich language that creates comic, dramatic, and tragicomic landscapes, and a minimal, strategic psychographic accuracy that avoids any stylization as prominent features, the theatrical work of the brothers Antonis and Konstantinos Koufalis runs a spectacular course in modern Greek dramaturgy.


Don’t Disturb the Sand, The Salvation Army, Forgive Me; like lyrics of poems, blends of realistic adherence and spectacular narrative, the titles of their nine plays (to date) provide a first reflection – an elliptical one – not only of the world they contain, but also the outline of Another. Through these titles that bear a programmatic meaning, foreshadow the plot and the evolution of the characters, and/or indicate the characters’ specific characteristics, the myth is illuminated.


Through "trivial" instances of everyday life - minute episodes of the life and days of people whose fate appears faded and pale - the authors create solid dramatic characters who reproach each other and impeach the audience (for its countless guilt). The playwrights weave their dramatic web around a specific situation; an ambience; an absolutely specific – and often with explicit reference to facts – fleeting pattern. The world they examine is perceived in a calm, cold, and sometimes relentless way. Their theatrical landscapes set the conditions for an anthropology determined by a clear cultural tone, orchestrating environments and situations without idealizing or parodying.


Their dramatic characters include the deviant teens of The House with the Gifts and Don’t Disturb the Sand, the female party of Women in the Snow, the “abused” minors of Frost, the family members of Forgive Me, the wonderful Sotiria [Saviour] with her army of dogs of The Salvation Army, and the tour guide Eleni Voutira - née Nicholas, wife of Iordanis Voutiras - of The Sixth Caryatid; they all transcend their situational status, as they are transcribed with a skillfulness capable of subverting and eroding their apparent insignificance. Their theatrical discourse rests comfortably and steadily on an everyday and properly employed language: a purely theatrical language, a testimony of the playwrights’ wonderful theatrical maturity – ever-present in their dramaturgy – that creates a sense of a world without limits, in the meatime indicating the conditions for its establishment.


Memory, the function of which is encoded, is of paramount importance; a mnemonic function with a priori inestimable recordings, it determines the dramaturgical development of the plays and directs the characters’ performances. Here, it appears to stand down – in any case, it remains subtle; memory as a wonderful depiction of reality that allows the preservation of the fleeting moment in a photographic-like manner.


The playwrights’ expression resides in the non-linearity of the description of events and situations, and the dis-continuity of references between what precedes and what follows. Antonis and Konstantinos Koufalis conjure up characters that exert on oblivion – or rather the impossible certainty of “remembering”. Their protagonists selectively restore fragments of reality from what was left forgotten, to the space-time of the performance. Each play is another study in absence; a poignant effort to accept the loss of people and things. In their dramatic universe, childhood and youth emerge as privileged mnemonic spaces where dreams and nightmares nest; from there, fears and ghosts are hauled, along with a vague recollection, a nostalgia for the era before the trauma.


The words the Koufalis brothers employ are euphoric because they are fluid and malleable; they are tight, dense and convincing, amenable to alternative readings, as they create a space that can each time serve the desired. Moreover, they unfold a dialectic inventiveness in the mode of the framing and mirroring of the historical and social reality from which they depend and with which they converse. Their fiction passes through historical events without any of the plays, not even The Sixth Caryatid, speaking about History. All the plays recount a (fictional) history that favors, once again, the wording of the question: "what is true?".


Antonis and Konstantinos Koufalis know how to narrate the unfamiliar and present it to us in the image and likeness; they know how to decipher tacit aspects of reality through symbols and confessions of relations, and to present – through metonymy and metaphor – distant but legitimate interfaces, determinants of the new image they offer us. They also know how to make us participants of their truth. Finally, they know how to scare.