Wednesday, September 18, 2019


James Karas 

The comedy of Aristophanes is often better in the imagination than on stage. It is like the old dictum about translation: if it is faithful, it is ugly; if it is beautiful it is unfaithful. It is impossible to be faithful to his great comedies which are rooted in fifth century B.C. Athenian life and politics. No matter how many footnotes you read, you will not get many laughs.

Aristophanes’ Clouds was performed in 423 B.C. at the Great Dionysia Festival and it got THIRD prize.  He was properly urinated off and some years later revised the play by adding a Poet as a character (himself, in other words) you gave feces to everyone for not getting FIRST prize in 423. That version was never produced and it is the only one that survived with some problems about the text.
Let’s face it from the outset that if Aristophanes wrote and produced plays in almost any age in the last two thousand four hundred and fifty years, give or take, he and the cast would have ended up in jail. Period. In Ancient Athens he was not jailed and has been considered one of the real comic geniuses ever since.

Strepsiadis (Yorgos Gallos), an old peasant, married a snooty city girl and has a useless son, Pheidippides, (Aineias Tsamatis) who blows money on horses and sinks his father in debt. Strepsiadis is pursued by creditors and is desperate to find a way of getting rid of them.

He decides to go to Socrates’ school to learn how to win in court against his creditors. Socrates (Nikos Karathanos) is a buffoon who is seen at the top of a turquoise, square structure. It has flaps that open and we see some action inside it.

The Clouds are a motley group of goddesses who bring rain and are responsible for a great deal. They are mostly men in drag in this production and a wild group of generators of laughter.

There is a serious side to the comedy in its presentation of newfangled ideas versus the old traditional ways. There is a personification of Right or Just Argument (Karyofyllia Karampeti) and Wrong or Unjust Argument (Theodora Tzimou) who argue at some length about the new and old way of thinking.
Translator Giannis Asteris and director Dimitris Karantzas with dramaturge Theodora Kapranou produce a hilarious play by being seriously unfaithful to Aristophanes. They use raunchy language, describe bodily functions, display body parts, refer to current events and create a hilarious play. If you ever heard the phrase “the reign of the phallus” you will get a better idea of its meaning from this production. No translation of the play however loose, can bring the laughter and joy that the cast does. 

Gallos is a marvelous comic who in trying to get his son to join the new methods of thinking and cheating learns that the old ways were not so bad. Karathanos is a hilariously clownish Socrates, the man who runs the new thinking school that has vice triumph over virtue. Socrates gets a pretty bad thrashing in the play.

Karampeti and Tzimou are very funny as Right and Wrong with the Chorus providing some huge chunks of entertainment.

This is a freewheeling approach to Aristophanes that manages to be faithful to his spirit while unfaithful to the strictures of the text. My guess is that Aristophanes would have loved it.
Clouds by Aristophanes, translated by Giannis Asteris, was performed on September 7, 2019 at the Petres Theatre, Petroupoli, Athens, Greece.  

James Karas is the Senior Editor - Culture of The Greek Press.

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