ELLAS GELAS (GREECE LAUGHS) – REVIEW OF ONE ACT PLAYS BY SOURIS IN THESSALONIKI

THEATRE REVIEW

 

James Karas

Georgios Souris (1853-1919) was a great Greek satirist who is virtually unknown outside of Greece. His poems are still read in Greece and almost everyone can quote a few verses that are as applicable today as they were almost one hundred and fifty years ago. I was lucky to find a rambunctious production of four of his one-act plays in Theatro Sofouli, a basement fringe theatre in Thessaloniki.

The cast of three women and five men is directed Pavlos Danelatos and they give exuberant performances. The plays are written in rhyming verse and they satirize Athenian society of the 1880s with parallels being pointed out to today’s Greece. The message is that not much has changed.

Danelatos adopts a commedia dell’arte style of acting for the talented cast. The men have painted masks and all the actors use exaggerated gestures, physical comedy and slapstick, resulting in boisterous comedy.

Sofouli Theatre which, according to its webpage, was founded in 2001 does not provide a program except for a postcard-size piece of paper that lists the actors only but the names of the rest of the troupe can be found again on their webpage. The actors are: Diogenis Gikas, Vicky Grigoriadou, Yiannis Mastrogeorgiou, Despina Bischinioni, Konstantionos Petridis, Stamatis Stamoglou, Chrysa Bolatti and Lefteris Panagiotidis. The last two are listed as friendly participants.

The plays are The Nomoneyman, (a loose translation of Anaparadiadis or someone without money), (1884), The Epidemic (1881), He Has No Qualifications (1885) and The Region (1886).

In The Nomoneyman a lawyer who has no clients and no money is running away from a tax-collector. He tries to hide in a house where he finds a spinster or an old maid to use the English of a certain age. She is ready to go, as they say, but her brother arrives, who just happens to be the tax collector. There is no way out but for the hapless lawyer to marry the spinster and get rid of his debts.

Almost every Greek can relate to being chased for unpaid taxes and unfortunately the stereotypical and untrue image of lawyers sounded true in 1884 as it does today. Horrors.

The second play, He Has No Qualifications (Δεν έχει τα προσόντα) is a broad satire on the civil service of Greece which seems to have grown exponentially over the past century and more. Jobs are offered based on the clientelist electoral system to whomever voted for and brought votes for the local winning politician. The sole qualification was political connection. The feeling is that nothing has changed.

The Epidemic is about a hypochondriac who is fearful of dying from a typhus epidemic. The play looks back to Aristophanes and Moliere with the smart-alecky maid and the hypochondriac’s niece who switch between normal and falsetto voices to good effect.

The Region (Η Περιφέρεια) presents the classic scenario of a crooked politician campaigning in a village to country bumpkins.

The set consists of a couch and a few chairs when necessary but this is barebones theatre that relies on the enthusiasm and exuberance of the actors, their ability to deliver rhyming couplets and maintain high speed and comic business throughout.

A highly enjoyable production of one-act plays that we are most unlikely to see in North America.

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ELLAS GELAS four one-act plays by Georgios Souris played from February 2, to February 11, 2018 at the Theatro Sofouli, Thessaloniki, Greece.