REVIEW OF NATIONAL THEATRE OF GREECE PRODUCTION
How do you produce a great play under Covid-19 strict social distancing conditions? How well can you do with a production that will be performed only once, without an audience and streamed live around the world in Greek?
The play is Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie (Ο Γυάλινος Κόσμος) which was produced by the National Theatre of Greece on January 23, 2021 precisely as described above. It was a stunning production and interpretation of the play that deserves a much greater audience than could be garnered by one broadcast.
A lion’s share of the credit must go to director Giorgos Nanouris for his brilliant and imaginative approach to the play and his compliance with distancing requirements that took nothing away from the power of the play. He and set designer Mary Tagari have the play performed on a stage that has a kitchen table and a sofa well apart. Nothing else.
The all-important glass menagerie, the collection of delicate figurines that constitute Laura’s world are represented by a chandelier with delicate-looking bulbs. The chandelier is lowered to head level and raised as required and it works extremely well. Having Laura play with small figurines would have required a breach of social distancing and the solution seems simply inspired. The background is entirely black with a white smoke visible now and then. It is a dream play and again the indication provided by the background is appropriate and superb.
The action of the play is what Tom remembers about life with his mother Amanda, his disabled sister Laura and a visitor Jim in Mississippi in the 1930’s. All the characters have an alternate universe, a memory of another world that did not or does not exist. A production needs to capture those worlds, take us through the lives of the characters to the devastating and tragic end.
Konstantinos Babis gives us an angry, troubled and desperate Tom stuck in a dead-end job with an unbearable mother and a troubled sister. He writes poetry on his job in a shoe warehouse and goes to the movies to find escape and solace. Babis makes us feel his anger and his desperation and we share his guilt about leaving his sister behind.
The mother, Amanda (Anna Moscha), is just as desperate and frustrated as Tom. She is garrulous, annoying and unable to see beyond her own unhappiness. Her alternate world is her imaginary youth. She considers herself a former Southern belle, a beautiful, aristocratic woman who was visited by numerous high-class suitors. She chose a loser. Moscha gives us a marvelous portrayal of this pathetic woman who does love her children but cannot grasp reality or dispose of her dream world.
The glass menagerie is Laura’s (Lena Papaligoura) other world. Her physical defect, a foot that makes her limp, has caused psychological injury to the extent that she is almost incapable of living in the real world. She is as delicate as the figurines (in this production the lightbulbs) that she loves and when one of them is broken she cries inconsolably. It is an extraordinarily moving scene. In Jim, the gentleman visitor that her brother brings as a possible suitor, she meets someone that she knew and had a crush on in high school. He manages to bring her out – dance with her and kiss her – and then tells her he is engaged. (The kiss is indicated by clever use of shadows.) He destroys her. A moving and beautifully nuanced performance of a tough role.
Anastasis Roilos plays Jim. He is a young man full of confidence, great dreams and a bright future. Maybe. He was a popular high school student who showed great promise – he could have become president before thirty, he thought. He fizzed out and ended up working in a shoe warehouse with Tom. All that is left is his glorious past, his terrible present and his dreams for the future. He has a lot in common with the other characters in the play. Roilos exudes Jim’s confidence and humanity impeccably.
The National Theatre of Greece has had is ups and downs since its inception in 1890 including disappearing for decades. That is in the past and now it is recognized as a major cultural organization. Its forays abroad have been severely curtailed, but streaming should offer opportunities for gaining a worldwide audience. It should aim for more than Greeks of the diaspora and having subtitles in English and other languages is a must. Let us hope they will pick up the torch.
The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams was streamed on January 30, 2021 live from the Nikos Kourkoulos stage of the Ziller Building, Athens, Greece. For more information visit: www.n-t.gr