Reviewed James Karas
The Greek Community of Toronto’s Nefeli Theatre has taken a significant step forward by producing Fotinos, a patriotic drama by Aristotelis Valaoritis at the Music Hall Theatre.
Director and Choreographer Nancy Athan-Mylonas has assembled a huge cast ranging from youngsters who should have been in bed during the evening performance and mature adults. The whole thing looked like a logistical nightmare but she with the help of many others no doubt brought it off through with flying colours.
Fotinos is based on an unfinished epic poem by Valaoritis (1824-1879) about a revolt by the peasants of the Ionian island of Lefkada against their Venetian overlords in 1357. The play has domestic and national plot lines. Fotinos of the title (Christos Manikas) is a seventyish farmer who was a revolutionary in his youth. His daughter Thodoula (Anastasia Zanettoulis) is courted by and then engaged to Lambros (Vasili Manikas).
Lambros is the son Floros (Demetre Anastasiou) and Maro (Maria Mattheou), a woman who proves that women’s lib existed in the 14th century in Lefkada. Fotinos’s son Mitros (Dimitri Manikas will play an important role in the national plotline of the play.
The domestic plot is about the engagement and preparation for the marriage of Lambros and the lovely Thodoula. Intertwined with that is the mistreatment of the Greeks by the Venetian grandees consisting of Tzortzis Gratianos (Dimitris Koboliris), his brother Nikolakis (Yianni Bakas) and the treacherous priest Markos (Kostas Bakas).
The two lovers, Thodoula’s friends and the powerful Maro provide some humour amid the horrendous treatment meted out by the Venetians and the ultimate tragic consequences of the Greeks’ thirst for freedom.
Athan-Mylonas adds her own brand of entertainment by way of singing and dancing – there is a happy event happening. She has people using both aisles of the theatre as they make their way noisily towards the stage. Young girls in pretty costumes and adults fill the stage and they dance merrily. It is quite a scene.
Christos Manikas has a powerful voice and he can be very dramatic indeed. He is a patriarch and a patriot who wants peace but he will not be allowed to enjoy his old age. An incident with a slingshot in defense of his property results in a sadistic scene where Tzortzis orders that Fotinos’ hand be crushed with a board. Manikas brings out all the horror of the incident and does an outstanding job in the role.
Koboliris and Yianni Bakas are overbearing and sadistic as the Venetian bosses with Kosta Bakas giving a superb performance as a sleazy priest who is willing to betray everyone.
Vasili Manikas and Zanettoulis are quite pleasant as the eager lover and the shy, virginal maiden with Anastasiou getting high marks as the blustering Floros who has no chance of winning against his wife Maro.
Dimitri Manikas as the son of the powerful Fotinos has his loyalty and courage questioned but in the end he pays the ultimate price for the revolt. In a melodramatic scene that would be hard to surpass, he is found hanging in the church as his sister and Lambros are about to enter to be married.
Valaoritis wrote in a difficult dialect that would tax the talent of seasoned actors. The cast of Fotinos was sometimes bested by the unfamiliar words of the play. They spoke too quickly on occasion and did not always enunciate.
Nefeli is amateur theatre at its best. It involves a large cast with numerous people working behind the scenes. They performed before an enthusiastic audience for whom the themes of family, love, marriage, religion and patriotism resonate.
The Music Hall on the Danforth was a wise choice. At 1200 seats, it could not be filled for all three performances but at least it is in the heart of the Greek community.
The final judgment was rendered by the audience who gave the performance an enthusiastic ovation.___