For those of us who complain about the paucity of Greek theatre in Toronto (starting with me), the local branch of the International Society of Friends of Nikos Kazantzakis (ISFNK), had a surprise for us last Sunday, November 18, 2018. They introduced us to Nikos Kazantzakis’s tragedy Kapodistrias at the Polymenakio Cultural Centre of the Greek Community of Toronto.
The number of people who have seen any of Kazantzakis’s thirteen plays, let alone Kapodistrias, cannot be many. In Toronto we have seen adaptations of his novels Zorba the Greek and The Greek Passion (under the title He Who Must Die) but I am not aware of any of his plays having been ever been staged.
Toronto’s Friends of Kazantzakis under the capable leadership of Voula Vetsis with the help of the Greek Community of Toronto and the Cretans’ Association of Toronto “Knossos” has given us a partial reading of Kapodistrias.
Director Maria Kordoni uses a narrator for introductory and connecting material (the inimitable Irene Stubos) and four actors to read some of the lines of seven characters of the play as well as a chorus of four women. The play has fifteen parts and a chorus that can vary in number, and is quite long. Kordoni had to make some judicial choices for what she offered the audience that packed Polymenakio Centre.
The main character is of course Ioannis Kapodistrias and Andreas Batakis does an exceptional job in reading his lines. Kazantzakis’s Kapodistrias is an intellectual with political wisdom and a vision of a new Greece without fratricidal factions. He is a Christ-like figure who knows that his death is near but is ready to sacrifice himself for the people.
Batakis is tall and broad-faced, physical features appropriate for a sympathetic portrayal of Kapodistrias, as well as the vocal intonation to achieve a representation of the tragic figure. Dimitris Kobiliris reads the honest and fearless Makriyiannis. Yiannis Kassios reads Papagiorgis while Ioannis Dimitriou is the gruff Kolokotronis. The latter doubles as the assassin Konstantis Mavromichalis. Thanasis Adamos reads the parts of Giorgakis Mavromichalis and Gikas.
No one should underestimate the effort and success of the actors. Except, for the chorus, they all had to read Kazantzakis’s rather awkward thirteen-syllable verse which results in almost all speaking in a similar vein.
The chorus made up of Panagiota Vogdou, Maria Diolitsi, Ourania Korentos and Dr. Maria Lychnaki delivered some of the choral passages of the play very competently.
The actors read their lines while seated and my only comment would be that they may have been better off if they read them standing at lecterns. This would have given them more freedom of movement including having the script on a lectern rather than their laps and would have been easier to indicate who would have been on stage in a full production.
Kazantzakis wrote Kapodistrias in 1944, near the end of the German occupation of Greece. It was produced by the National Theatre of Greece in 1946 when Greece was torn by fanatic factions and political hatreds. Despite Kapodistrias’s and Kazantzakis’s plea for moderation, all-out verbal war broke out in the newspapers between the left and right political extremes and the production was quickly closed.
The play was not produced again until 1976 and the same production was mounted in 1982. These three production, if my information is correct, are the sum total of stagings of Kapodistrias in Greece.
The local Friends of Kazantzakis who were organized in 1988, may have achieved a lot more than they are even aware of.
Kapodistrias by Nikos Kazantzakis was performed once on November 18, 2018 at the Polymenakio Cultural Centre, Greek Community of Toronto, 30 Thornecliffe Park Drive, Toronto, Ontario.