Reviewed by James Karas
The Greek Community of Toronto’s Irida Art Group has staged the light comedy Mia Italida stin Kypseli with some fine comic successes and a few issues that bedevilled the performance.
Mia Italida by Nikos Tsiforos and Polyvios Vasiliadis started as a successful stage play and was made into an even more successful movie in 1968 in the heyday of Finos Film (and coincidentally the junta.)
The plot: Tony has married Bianca while the two are studying in Italy. His rich sister Toula is anti-Greek women as wives and the young couple decide to pretend that Bianca is Italian. They need Toula’s money. Bianca comes to Tony’s family pretending not to speak a word of Greek. Toula is acid-tongued and misses no opportunity to belittle Polykratis, her loser husband who has been squished into utter submission.
We have John, an Englishman and former consul in Africa who is interested in Tony’s mother. There is also Renée, a French woman who will come in handy for wrapping up the plot and making sure everybody lives happily ever after. The inevitable sharp-tongued maid Eleni helps with the comedy as do Panagiotis, a crook and fraud artist, and Babis, a colourful tavern owner.
The plot will move towards convincing Toula that Greek women are better than “European” spouses and get on with marital pairings.
The Good and the Avoidable: The play was directed by Grigoris Terzakis under what might politely be termed trying conditions. Terzakis also took on the main male role of Tony and he gave a fine performance and overcame most of the adverse circumstances. He has stage presence and an instinct for comedy. Tony must lie, connive, deal with exasperating people and eventually manage to pull off his stunt. He was able to project his voice and be heard at all times, something that the auditorium made mandatory and not everyone could achieve.
Katerina Tsekarea made a splendid Bianca. Tall, lithe, leggy, sensual and dressed to emphasize those assets, she made a Bianca that was visually and comically attractive. She tended to speed well beyond the limit in her speech at times and in the available acoustics respect for velocity would have been advisable.
Effie Antonopoulou as Toula and Giorgos Kefalas as her long-suffering husband Polykratis made an ideal couple if you like abuse and marital pain. The audience enjoyed the comedy of the situation. Vasiliki Ignantiadou made the best of the role of Renée as did Ioanna Apatsidou as Argyro.
Christina Kefala milked the role of Eleni the mouthy maid for all its worth and Nikos Rammos-Kapalidis made a fine impression and got the laughs as the irreverent tavern owner who comes to collect on his bill.
Dimitris Vohaitis played the crooked Panagiotis. The shiny-pated Vohaitis looked fine and had some very good lines. On his first entry, he staggers in obviously inebriated. He then forgets that he is drunk and walks out normally. Surely there were missed chances for good laughs as in a pratfall, a stumble, slurred speech, knocking over a piece of furniture and probably others, none of which was done.
Nikos Tsekas plays John, the English gentleman. Tsekas has a perfect Greek accent but not a trace of an English pronunciation. His lines are good and he does get the laughs but he is no English gentlemen.
I might mention that in the first twenty minutes, all the people on stage simply sat on couches with no movement at all. That could have and should have been corrected.
The venue: The play was performed in the auditorium of East York Collegiate in Toronto. The acoustics were simply atrocious and microphones were installed in front of the stage with a large speaker in the middle so that people could hear the dialogue. It worked most of the time. Some of the amateur actors who may not have had many if any rehearsals in the high school auditorium did not or could not project their voices to all of the audience all the time.
The set consisted of a couple of couches and a few pieces of furniture which is pretty much to be expected for an amateur production
The Unnecessary: Mia Italida opens in the living room of Tony’s family. In this production it opened with a singer and a few couples dancing. It had no relation to the play and I have no idea why it was inserted. My best guess is that Terzakis wanted to include the Greek Community’s dance group in the production, no matter what. At the end, when all the plot strands are quickly resolved and the actors are ready to take a bow, there is more singing. Both are out of place and if you cannot blend them into the play, you should leave them out.
There are supposed to be over 100,000 Greeks in Toronto but the chances of seeing Greek theatre have always been slim in the 150 years since the first Greek arrived in the city. Irida Art Group was organized last September and it is made largely of “new” Greeks. Many of them were educated in Greece and are a breath of fresh air for the Greek Community. They do not need to learn a role almost phonetically and struggle with accents.
Irida, like the goddess after which it is named, perhaps can reach across the ocean and time to the fountainhead of Western drama and quench our thirst with a few drops of theatre.