**** (out of five)
The Lover of the Shepherdess (Ο Αγαπητικός της Βοσκόπουλας) is a classic of the Modern Greek Theater for many good reasons not least of which is the poem and beautiful ballad “I fell in love with a shepherdess.” The National Theatre of Northern Greece delivers the love stories, the rustic humour, the drama, the songs and dances that add up to an amazingly entertaining night at Thessaloniki’s Vassiliko Theatro.
You must know that a very young Mitros (Taxiarhis Hanos) fell hopelessly in love with Maro, a beautiful shepherdess. According to the song, the shepherdess put her hands on his waist and told him that he was too young for the pangs of love. Mitros was crushed.
Twenty years later the play begins. Mitros is searching for Maro, his first and only love. In the meantime we meet Kroustallo (Stavroula Arambatzoglou) the daughter of the widow Stathena (Filareti Komninou) who is in love with Liakos (Orestes Chalkias), the son of the widow Yiannena (Efi Stamouli). Liakos falls in the river but Mitros saves his life. Liakos wants to marry Kroustallo but her mother says no because he is poor.
Dimitrios Koromilas (1850-1898) was a prolific playwright and his 1890 play was written in fifteen syllable verses that are far more fluid than one would imagine. The play is described as a pastoral drama with songs and dances with a considerable serving of comedy. It takes place in a rural village where raising sheep is the main occupation.
Mitros is of a certain age, of course, since he was rejected twenty years ago. He gives a gold chain to Kroustallo and her mother wants her to marry him NOW to get her away from Liakos. My only complaint about Hanos is that he had a tendency to speak too quickly. Koromilas’s verses gain by being spoken with some respect for their meter.
Not that slowly, it dawns on us that the widow Stathena is none other than Mitros’s love Maro whom he does not recognize. Komninou is still attractive as Maro but some of her mannerisms indicated more Kolonaki than Artotina, the village of the play.
Kroustallo is pretty, vivacious, passionate, troubled and deeply in love. We are all rooting for her to get the right man and live happily ever after. Liakos is a relatively minor role but he is handsome, passionate, and sincere and does some high-minded but perhaps stupid things to keep the plot moving. Stamouli as his mother has the most dramatic lines of grief, anger, fear and some heart-felt cursing. The actress does not miss a beat.
On the lighter side, we have Kostas Santas as Chronis, a type of hillbilly character who is a natural comic and never fails to get the laughs. Foulis Boudouroglou plays the minor role of Tsotras and he manages to get laughs with a single word or just a gesture. Gerlas has a nasty side to him but Dimitris Kolovos plays him for laughs and gets them.
The play has over thirty characters which is not a cast but a crowd. They sing some beautiful folk songs, do a number of dances and generate a wonderful atmosphere. Costume and Set Designer Manolis Pantelidakis spares no effort to provide colourful costumes for the men and the women and with that many on stage they provide a show on their own. The set is equally colourful with a number of painted panels being lowered to indicate the village and the home of Maro. The ‘feel” of the production is that of a fairy tale and I think that is the best way to treat the play.
Director Stamatis Fassoulis pays great attention to the colourful unreality of the situation and the setting and wants to enjoy the imaginary world of beautiful shepherdesses, rustic simplicity, faithful love and a happy ending. I could have done with the obvious miking of all the characters. Microphones taped to their cheeks – are they really necessary? Otherwise a superb job.
The over-all effect of the production was sheer pleasure. Idyllic, pastoral life is embedded in the Greek psyche from ancient mythology to the images of village life in the 19th and 20th centuries however remote from reality. It was a delight to visit that world.
The Lover of the Shepherdess by Dimitrios Koromilas opened on July 1 and will play until September 9, 2016 at the Vassiliko Theatro Thessalonikis in a production by the National Theatre of Northern Greece. www.ntng.gr