Director & Translator Vasilis Economou
Messenger Mihalis Tamboukas
Xerxes Vasilis Economou
Played on July 13 and 14, 2016 at the Nea Skini of the National Theatre of Greece. Athens. www.distheater.gr
**** (out of five)
Choice 1: Mykonos, Santorini, Rhodes and dozens of other sun-drenched islands.
Choice 2: Plays by Aeschylus, Aristophanes, Euripides, Sophocles, Becket and dozens of other authors in all major cultural fields available in Athens, Epidaurus and other venues around Greece. What you can you get Ancient Greek drama, classical and modern music, international theatre, dance, Broadway musicals, opera and films. And that is just a short list.
You need to choose. Is it Choice 1 or 2? Now don’t be hasty.
Don’t be hasty. Think where you want to spend your vacation. I said think!
The Persians of Aeschylus has the distinction of being the earliest surviving play of the Western canon. It also has the unique distinction of being produced by Theatre of People with a Disability at National Theatre of Greece in Athens. I am translating the name of the troupe from the Greek Theatro Atomon me Anapiria literally. All of the actors may have challenges but their performances are stellar.
The production is performed in the small New Stage on the second floor of the splendid building of the National Theatre of Greece in Athens. Vasilis Economic directs his translation of the play taking some liberties with the text and adding some songs
The performance is done in the generous space of the New Stage with no stage props. The black stage and black background with good use of lighting, drums and some other percussion instruments is all that is needed to dramatize the state of the defeated Persians after the Battle of Salamis.
Economic opens the play with drum beats as the Chorus of men and women, some on wheelchairs, appear. A woman with her whole body covered by a veil appears and sings a cappella a moving dirge. She is Yiota Vei, the Chorus Leader who will sing several other chants that are not in Aeschylus’s play as far as I can tell. Her voice is strong and moving initially but it does begin to crack by the end.
The Chorus of Persian Elders begins chanting the names of the leaders of the Persian expedition (again not in the text). At the end of this chant we hear the words of Aeschylus’s text spoken by the Chorus.
Economic makes intelligent use of the Chorus. Some of them are in wheelchairs and some have other disabilities but they can all move and do so. There is a choreographed segment where the one half of the Chorus lunges towards the other half as if they are at war. The choral sections are spoken or recited by different members and they wail some lamentations at the fate of their countrymen who were decimated by the Greeks.
Atossa, the Queen of Xerxes, plays a central role in the play. Economou has two actors play the part. One is the regal and statuesque Queen who is silent and the other is Atossa in a bright red dress, in a wheelchair, who speaks the lines. The roles are played by Christina Toumba and Christina Tsavli. The speaking Atossa has a minor speech impediment but she spoke and enunciated her lines movingly.
The Messenger (Mihalis Tamboukas) has the task of describing in some detail the events in Greece that resulted in the annihilation of the Persian forces. In this role you need forceful and measured delivery with sufficient modulation to keep the news coming. He does.
The Ghost of Darius is played by Panos Zournatzidis and here we have smoke and flames rising from the rear of the stage. Darius is coming from Hades and he wisely judges that his son committed acts of sacrilege against the gods. He instructs Atossa to give Xerxes new armour to change into from the torn one and to comfort him in his distress.
Finally the beaten and war-torn and defeated Xerxes (Economou) appears. He has lost his companions and must report their deaths to the Chorus. A moving scene.
Alexandros Kapsokavadis directs the percussion players who produced a lot with very little. The performance was signed for the hearing challenged.
This is a taut, spare and highly effective production. It is astonishing how much one can do with an Ancient Greek tragedy with a fine troupe intelligently directed.
Let’s get back to your vacation. You go to a Greek island and are enthralled by its beauty. That lasts for a good two hours. Now what? You park your torso on the sand, end up sunburned and bored out of your mind. If you were in Athens you could go to the theatre, visit museums, eat well and never be bored. Don’t miss that boat back to civilization.