Justine Frangouli-Argyris – Greek theater does not merely consist of tragedy and satire from ancient drama. For, today, numerous modern performances of renowned Greek plays adorn various Athenian venues, offering up a taste of the literature and theater of contemporary Greece.
One such production is “My Mother’s Sin,” based on the homonymous short story by the great 19th century writer, George Vizyenos. An autobiographical family drama that is penned with warm feelings but with the use of a sharp edge, “My Mother’s Sin” encompasses two main characters, the narrator and his mother.
Marked as an innovative piece of literature at the time, it is considered to be one of the pre-eminent works of Greek prose today. Influenced by the literary currents of Western Europe, it was the first modern Greek story to tackle the concepts of psychic torment and the heavy conscience of guilt, infiltrating deep into the human psyche.
At the outset, the author introduces us to three brothers, their severely ill sister, Annio, and their widowed mother who is totally immersed in a fight to save her dying daughter while utterly neglecting the boys. Annios’s sickness progresses unabated and she eventually dies, leading the mother to adopt another girl whom she showers with excessive affection, once again, to the detriment of her sons. The young woman ultimately leaves the house through marriage, causing the mother to adopt yet another girl and bringing about an intense reaction from the boys.
“My Mother’s Sin” has been staged with great success for years with the troupe of Elias Logothetis, “Ode,” playing to packed houses at various locations in and around Athens.
The superb interpretations of the renowned Greek actors, Elias Logothetis and Maria Zachari, are memorable in raising the pulse of a show, minimalist as it is, and unfolding as it does, on a minimalist backdrop. “My Mother’s Sin” is a deep psychodrama that is adept at highlighting Vizyenos’ misery when faced with his mother’s neglect as a result of her solitary devotion to her adopted daughters.
Strikingly, however, it is the mother’s torment that runs much deeper, as she dramatically confesses that, many years ago, she asphyxiated her first, sleeping infant daughter while in a drunken stupor after a night of partaking in village festivities.
The trauma of Vizyenos’ rejection will lead the great Greek poet to self-destruct, as he can not deal with this lack of affection and attention at the hands of his own mother. He will eventually be institutionalized where he will remain for the rest of his life, beset by mental illness.
That which leaves an impression is the fact that the actors, Maria Zachari and Elias Logothetis, opted to retain the original language of the work intact, resulting in the audience being placed in the midst of a constantly flowing poem. The smoothly running dialogue combined with the songs interpreted by Logothetis almost transform the show into a melodic operetta. Anyone, even those without any comprehension of the Greek language, will be enthralled by the mere sound of the music and its lyrics.
Another extraordinary element of the production is that it unfolds in the first person narrative without crippling the tone of the native text. Logothetis’ magical performance demonstrates his uncanny ability to tone down the “darkness” of the story and create a product that is pleasing to the viewer. Maria Zachari, in a softer role (the mother) as compared to the imposing stature of her protagonist, is equally successful in demonstrating her remarkable talent.
“My Mother’s Sin” is a show not to be missed and can be seen any Friday, Saturday or Sunday at the Theater of the Faculty of Fine Arts of Athens. Eventually, it is hoped that the production will travel to other metropolises around the world so that all Hellenes, and non-Hellenes alike, can witness, first-hand, the theatrical work of one of Greece’s foremost performers, the great Elias Logothetis.