Valse Oedipalle

August 16, 2008 at 1:01 pm (Acting, Culture, Film, Movies, Theater) (, , , , , , , , , )

Obviously, I am no state to be watching art these days.  How else to explain the nervous giggles, acute boredom, and disbelief I have experienced in the last two shows I’ve attended? Two creations that have as much in common as Dubya and ingenuity? Either my id is acting up as a result of quitting theater and my I’d-rather-be-in-Gori-nursing-shrapnel-wounds-rather-than-auditioning attitude, or I truly did witness a double violation of the thespian craft.

Perpetrator number one was definitely more painful than the second.  A Greek dream team of actors took part in Roula Pateraki’s double Oedipus, including my second-favorite director ever, in whose theater I had just rehearsed.  I was ecstatic at finally going to Epidaurus, as for most of June and July I could only listen wistfully (OK, I was pea-green with envy) to the raves regarding the performances in this year’s Athens Festival. For me, being part of it was not enough. I don’t think I will get over missing Fiona Shaw playing Happy Days in Epidaurus; my taste of the Wooster Group’s exquisite Hamlet had only whetted my appetite for cerebral, avant-garde theater. Being a working actor means you never get to actually watch any performances other than your own, and even then, not properly. (The last show I was in, people kept telling me how much they loved the lighting design; I had no idea what the lighting looked like, and thanked them with cluelessness painted all over my face.)

But there I was, finally perched on the holy hill, grinning happily and squirming on the still-warm rock. We were sure that the performance would be exceptional; our only worry was that our sweet Marmarinos might not have the acting and vocal prowess to properly portray both Oedipus Rex and At Colonus.  We traded insider gossip, as only the most jaded, theater-going, know-it-alls do. We worried about his mouth surgery.

We needn’t have.

Marmarinos and the guy who played Creon as a baddie in some Zorro movie (circa 1940) were the only two people having a ball in this excruciatingly bad production. Four hours later, with a third of the theater gone and feeling like we had been beaten up, our only questions began with Why? Why? Why? We just couldn’t understand – anything at all.  As my shitlist of bad productions was given a new numbering system, we wondered:

Why pretend to use (i.e. light, and place a few benches on) the entire forest backdrop? I am all for treating actors and extras with the gentleness they deserve, but this duped us into thinking that it had some dramatic purpose.  Nope.  It was only for the guys who made the pretty patterns with silver dust in the orchestra to hang out on, until they had to go back and remake the pretty maze that the actors had the bad taste to spoil by stepping all over it. (We felt intellectually stumped as we debated the reasons.  The characters ignored the restraints of the maze of life, thus provoking the Gods’ wrath? The characters try to change the paths that Fate has laid out and fail?)

Why was everybody dressed Neanderthal-style, but the extras making the Silver Maze dressed like exterminators? Why could we see them? Why did they give up on the maze on the second part of the performance? Why did Antigone become an extra all throughout the second part? This brings us to:

Why on earth was Oedipus at Colonus performed first? I won’t begin to recount all the reasons we thought of; suffice to say, I stand by our last.  It simply was much better than Oedipus Rex, and they were aware that people would leave in droves.  When, a few days later, I found out the “truth” – all this was supposed to be Antigone’s recollection of her dad’s misfortune, and that was why she remained onstage throughout – I was aghast. I am sure there were a few simple things that could have been done (or even explained in the program – they weren’t) so that I would not have had to hunt throughout the acting community to find out.

Was this what the director had been dreaming of throughout her much-documented quest for the perfect production of Oedipus?  This was the summation of a year’s work? A leaden, academic reading of the two plays? With a few misguided directorial flourishes? Let’s not even get into the scratchy-voiced, shuffling, paper-clutching, half-monk, half-Star Wars extras that was the chorus.  The less said, the better about the emasculation of the most important part of any ancient Greek play.

Why was Kariofilia Karabeti as Antigone so unrecognizably bad? An Epidaurus veteran and with the sexiest voice in Greek theater, she normally has a knack for looking good even in bad productions; this time she bounded around like she was auditioning for Xena; the shrieking Ismene was her Gabriella, and they excelled at motion-stop-motion-speak/screech-start-motion-again acting. Amateur? Amazingly so.

Why did everybody wave their hands around, emphasing Ev-er-y syllable, in the most unnatural manner, and then stay stuck with their hands in the air for an indeterminable amount of time? Why? What was the purpose? Even our Press Secretary speaks with more feeling.

Why was the audience treated to a most kindergarten-like THERE WILL ONLY BE A 7 MINUTE BREAK (to a four-hour show) warning, and then forced to watch the most artless scene-shifting in history? (Lefteri, your Prince of Homburg was pure poetry; where are you in our hour of need?) The intermission occurred 4 minutes before the end of Oedipus at Colonus, provoking another Why? At this point, the only thing we were sure of was that there was not to be any experimental theater going on; so why don’t you just make a nice, classic production of it? Why?

The anti-intellectuals in theater may have a point, after all. (Dear Teacher, all is forgiven.)

My fit of giggles occurred during the lowest point of the performance.  Jocasta (played by Mania Papadimitriou, another revered actress) was dressed as Peter Pan, posing as a two-armed Kali and held aloft by two men on a white saucer (come on, National Theater! Where did all the budget go? On Ismene’s “horse”?) She admonished the quarreling Creon and Oedipus in such a funny, you-silly-silly-boys way that I keeled over with laughter.  Taking deep breaths, i watched, shocked, as she soon hopped off her palanquin, started screeching like a savaged pig, “KAKOTYXE!!” and crawled through the palace “gate” moaning – and only then did they guys holding her realize she wasn’t on her white saucer anymore, and they rushed after her a full 5 minutes after she had begun having contrived hysterics.

These people are all professional actors and directors of quality.  They have acted in and/or directed incredible performances.  Let’s not nitpick anymore.  Therefore, my final query is, Did you know what you were performing in?

What was left of the audience clapped madly, and I even read a blog that actually raved about the show.  Is it me? Us? We bowed our heads and rushed out to drink mass qualities of ouzo, averting our eyes when the performers walked by.  Only a few hours before I had fantasized about introducing myself, and now I couldn’t leave fast enough.

On to perp number 2.

I decide to go to my favorite open-air cinema, drink a Carib and watch the latest in Greek nepotism.  I had heard positive things about Kostantina Voulgari’s Valse Sentimentale, and I have a soft spot for the “alternative” lifestyle of my youth, so I figured in I was in for a pleasant evening.

The whole movie was set in my beloved Exarchia district of Athens, and I cooed at seeing pigtails, Doc Martens, Chartes cafe, Club Decadence, the steps of Kallidromiou Street (fondly, I recalled drinking cheap beer and singing on those steps); I began guessing (correctly) at the other locales that would be used in this ode to the anarchic neighborhood.

The game soon wore off.  If this had been a short, 15 minutes max, it could been a masterpiece.  At two hours, it was almost painful.  Let’s ignore the fact that the camera was held by an epileptic, the acting mediocre, and the lighting non-existent.  (No “wow, what a cool shot!!” here, you were lucky to see anything at all.) We’ll just assume Ms. Voulgari is of the make-your-audience-uncomfortable mentality.  So far, OK, live and let live.  But.

My basic disagreement with this “love story about nothing” is that Stamatis, the love interest, was so obviously an immature, unattractive, self-involved, verging-on-mental-retardation twat.

I don’t think I would have fallen for his line (by line, i mean his mumbling incomplete sentences) had I been 14 and he even remotely appealing.  To see the cute little punk-metal chick aching over this jerk was excruciating to the extreme.  Their conversations were infantile, plebian, and boring. Yet, there was even a gorgeous former girlfriend who practically had a fit when the git left her birthday party.

In a nutshell? This movie is forgivable only if the director’s age is not yet 18. (She’s pushing 30.)   I argued that her own sentimentality was to blame for this movie that had so obviously been in her drawer since junior high.  But, when you consider that her father is a respected, successful director, you realize she could have made this no-budget flick back then.

So, again, we are back to why? Why was this movie made? What was it trying to say?  That there are some women whose self-esteem is so low that they will pin all their hopes on an ugly fucker with the IQ of a cucumber?  That awkwardness and bad sex are cool?  That its ok – nay, nice – to put up with a disturbed “artist” (reaching for my barf bucket here) who can’t sleep in the same bed with you, and sends you on your way after the aforementioned bad sex? (“But I thought we were good,” she snuffles when he dumps her. Why, honey? Why? Are you retarded, too?)  When she picks up the used hanky he has thrown disdainfully on the floor and blows her nose, I wanted to shake her.

Valse Sentimentale is not a love story about nothing, because there was no love involved. Let me rephrase that, if that is love, I hope I never get it.  But that’s the thing.  I have gotten it and I know what its like; in its worst, most suicide-inducing moments it is not like this.

And then, for some reason, they hug and the credits finally roll. And I get Total Recall: The screeching Ismene and our pathetic movie heroine? One and the same.  Loukia Michalopoulou, unlucky girl, make better career decisions or else people will actually come to believe you’re a bad actress.

Fucking Karma.  I must have done something bad again. This must mean something.  I have to figure it out before next Friday’s excursion to Epidaurus; i don’t think I can handle 3 crappy shows in a row.

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