ANTONIS GEOURGIOU’S THEATRE,
- Kaiti Diamantakou, Associate Professor, Department of Theatre Studies University of Athens
From 2005, when Antonis Georgiou made his debut (with his play My Beloved Washing Machine) until the beginning of 2019, when this text was finally submitted, the playwright, and also novelist, wrote six plays and has recently completed a seventh (Uncle Giannis): a systematic and thoughtful writing production, consistent with a corresponding methodical prudence in the dramatic composition and editing of the final texts.
The playwright’s priority to the stage dynamics of his plays is reflected in the fact that his dramatic texts, despite having a very short writing life and although not yet published in Cyprus or Greece, have all been staged: six of them have been professionally performed, one has been staged as a script-in-hand performance.
Most of them have also been awarded for their theatrical efficiency in specific performative aspects: My Beloved Washing Machine won the THOC (Cyprus Theatre Organisation) Theater Award 2008 in the Playwrighting category and in the category of Performing-Acting of Best Actress (Lenia Sorokou, for the performance directed by Monica Vassiliou). The Disease was nominated for the THOC Theater Award 2012 in the Playwrighting category and received the Lighting Design/Multimedia Award (Nicoletta Kalatha, for the performance directed by Andri H. Constantinou). La Belote was selected and presented in the form of a script-in-hand performance directed by Euripides Dikaios, in the final phase of the program for the development and promotion of Cypriot playwriting PLAY 2013 and was nominated for the THOC 2014 Award, a performance directed again by Euripides Dikaios). The one-act play Αt the out-post was chosen and presented in the Turkish language, as a script-in-hand performance directed by Aliye Ummanel in June 2014 in Nicosia, during the final phase of the International Theatrical Meeting «Walls Separate Worlds» of the Cyprus Center of International Theater Institute.
At the same time, Antonis Georgiou’s prose texts are adapted for the stage, proving their latent theatrical potential: Inspired by Georgiou’s collection of short stories Sweet Bloody Life (National Short Story Award for the edition of 2006), Omada One/Off staged in 2010 Forget-me-not (a performance selected to represent Cyprus at the Avignon-Off Festival in 2011), while the polyphonic historical-biographical composition An Album of Stories (Cyprus Novel Award, European Union Prize for Literature 2016) was adapted and staged in 2016 by Marios Kakoulis’ theatrical group.
The play My Beloved Washing Machine –that is the beginning of this very dynamic and fruitful course of Antonis Georgiou– consists of three extensive monologues of three different and seemingly irrelevant characters, on the verge between middle and elder age, in search of both an interlocutor and his/her answers to the ongoing questions raised and brought by life, which they set on themselves. Moonlight Sonata by Yannis Ritsos, from which all of the monologues are inspired, is explicitly intersected with the archetypal literary myth of Oedipus, in a radical regeneration of the underlying materials, among which one cannot exclude Stephen Frears’ movie My beautiful Laundrette (1985), linking (consciously or not) this Cypriot play of the early 3rd millennium with the emblematic movie of modern art liberalism in Margaret Thatcher’s England of the 1980’s. From “there and then” of the palace of the ancient mythical Thebes, where the sixty-year-old Jocasta recalls her first encounter with Oedipus, we are transferred to a modern ordinary living room in Cyprus where a middle-aged housewife, doing her laundry, recalls her intimate relationship towards the son of a friend of hers. In the third episode, the hero that performs the monologue changes gender and sexual preferences, but remains a middle-class lonely person, isolated, disappointed, but stubbornly hooked to life and love, reminiscent of past erotic moments and waiting –in vain?– for new ones. Self-referentiality is strong in this play, with continuous intra-textual references to the two previous monologues: With skilful metatheatrical irony, the playwright sums up his entire dramaturgic targeting to blend the mythical with the real, the old with the new, the high with the humble, the unfamiliar with the intimate, the normal with the heterogeneous.
In The Disease (2008) –in an open dialogue with Beckett’s distinguished Happy Days, Ritsos’ Fourth Dimension and with the fading journalism speech of world news– the playwright provides a condensed epitome of modern “morbidity” through the agonizing “oscillation” of the elderly woman-protagonist among the biological potential and the moral choice of memory or oblivion, in a personal and universal world that is “sick” and declining indefinitely, forgetting what one should remember and remembering what should be forgotten. The biological “forgetting” of Alzheimer’s disease is chosen to distinctly contradict the sociopolitical “I do not forget”, and the verbal and visual symbol of the newer Cypriot Public Word is transformed into a universal cry of anxiety about all personal, social and political invasions, violations and violence that plague the world, lurking in everyone’s home, residing in their worst nightmares, without a clear start and without a predicted end.
In the one-act plays Our Garden (2011) and At the out-post (2007-2014), as well as in the extensive and multifaceted La Belote (2012) –in Modern Greek the first two, in the contemporary Greek-Cypriot dialect the third– the playwright shifts between a quasi realistic semiotic surface and an allegorical, symbolic semantic substratum, fusing and dissociating different influences from the earlier Cypriot drama and at the same time from the European modernist theatre. The three projects relate their thematic basis to the Cypriot contemporary reality of recent years and/or the encumbered contemporary history of the island, but in general they highlight their “plot” and “contemplation” in a wider, over-temporal and hypertopic horizon, which is united by the threat of any kind of war – military or economic, transnational or civil, local or global, domestic or interpersonal, family or social.
In the play I was Lysistrata, the aristophanic subtext converses (paradoxically?) with another classical play, Heiner Müllers Hamletmaschine (1977), from which draws a counterpart modern structure and style of poetry but also a universal historical perspective. Like in an ancient Parabasis, Lysistrata (symbol of civilian populations all over the world) is addressed to the forever exterminated and forever exterminating worldwide audience, in a final effort to awaken it from the causes that led it and continue to lead it to extinction. Through a verbal painful journey into memory, time, myth, history, ideology, revolution, the thoughts of Lysistrata are drawn from the depths of melancholy and mourning, despair and anger, condemned to remain unheard of and rot, before knowledge becomes the beginning of change and rupture. A textual field of broken sections, ruins of speech, “with its back on the ruins of Europe” (as written at the beginning of Hamletmaschine), I was Lysistrata is a labyrinth of ideas, fantasies, nightmares, memories of a man experiencing not the fall of socialist utopia anymore but the outburst and the stalemate of neoliberal dystopia.
Antonis Georgiou’s oeuvre until now testifies a continuous exploration of the dramatic means and genre potential of the more recent western European playwrighting as well as a continuous oscillation between the gentle, experiential observation of the everyday life of the modern man and the profoundly painful and critical discovery of the impasse of the culture that surrounds and fatefully determines this everyday life. One-act plays or not, with a small cast or not, interactive or structured on an (alternating) monologue basis, plays with a predominantly verbal, narrative action or plays with evolving and rising plot, plays with realistic “dramatic” standards or vertical post-dramatic ruptures, plays written first and foremost in modern Greek but also with a representative sample in the Greek-Cypriot dialect, plays with specific socio-political and historical referentiality, but also plays with a broad thematic and ideological perspective in what is transnational today, the plays of Antonis Georgiou introduce dynamically and dialectically the Cypriot theatrical reality of the 21st century into the global contemporary theatrical and cultural map. Antonis Georgiou belongs to an ever-growing new generation of Cypriot writers, who have now moved away from politicized didacticism, naturalistic ethographia, straight sociopolitical criticism, focused on the recent history of Cyprus, elements that were the vital oxygen and the necessary springboard for the development of the Cypriot theater in its difficult early days, especially in the adverse conditions after the events of the 1974 coup and invasion. The “enemy” has become multifaceted and supra-cultural, and the language to face it requires different theatrical arguments. And Antonis Georgiou –a writer at night, a lawyer in the morning– seems to dispose them absolutely.
Translated by Vasiliki Gkekina