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A portrait of the modern man November 9, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Arts Events Greece, Stage & Theater.
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Playwright Simon Stephens discusses his ‘Motortown,’ now being staged at the Neos Cosmos Theater

Danny is a 27-year-old Briton who returns to the industrial hometown in which he grew up after serving a tour of duty in Iraq. The war has addled his mind. Behind him, he has left a dirty, nonsensical war only to find himself in an even dirtier and crazier battlefield. The battle here is fought between the forces of family and love, between social and existentialist angst.

The town in which he grew up has become a suffocating place, where the enemy could be anyone and anywhere. It doesn’t take long for the young man to boil over and erupt and, after a certain point, his life becomes a tragedy with no hope of resolution.

That is the outline of British playwright Simon Stephens’s “Motortown” which is currently being staged at the Neos Cosmos Theater. It is a modern play written in a minimalist yet dense language and conveys a dynamic that one rarely comes across. Though it does contain certain scenes that may be shocking to some audiences, it is above all else a play that creates a feeling of constant tension, as performed by a tightly knit group of young actors in a minimal setting.

The ensemble is discreetly yet actively guided by director Vangelis Theodoropoulos. The atmosphere is defined by Stavros Gasparatos’s emotive music and the movement has been carefully guided by Angeliki Stellatou. Giorgos Gallos, who plays young Danny, and his co-stars all offer very powerful performances.

Playwright Stephens, who was in the Greek capital for the official premiere, spoke to the local press about his play. He stood in the middle of the “Motortown” set. Stephens is an unassuming and approachable man. He is well-read and fully conscious of his ideas, and has no trace of arrogance. At the age of 36 he has already penned more than 10 plays, has received awards and distinctions and has also found the time to raise three children. When asked how he can combine writing with family life, he answered that a writer’s job is people. “There is no better way to study a human being than to create one,” says Stephens. Having in mind authors like John Osborne and films like “Taxi Driver” and Mike Leigh’s “Naked”, Stephens has written a requiem for the modern young man. His young man is universal; he could be living in the United Kingdom, or anywhere else for that matter.

While writing the play, Stephens visited a military unit and talked to veterans of the Iraq war. “The soldiers spoke openly to me and came to the premiere.” They were not angry, says Stephens. “They felt embarrassed because of the topic, but they were clever people.”

Despite his obvious condemnation of the war, Stephens is also somewhat skeptical of the anti-war campaign. “I received an angry letter but I don’t think that anything is black and white nowadays. Hypocrisy is something we can see not just in George W. Bush and Tony Blair, but also in the supporters of the anti-war campaign. They have a holier-than-thou attitude and a childish view of things. They talk about Bush and Blair in the same terms that Bush and Blair talked about Saddam Hussein. And I don’t see anything positive in Bush. It would be good for him to stop drinking. With Blair things are a little bit different, because I believe that in time the British people will begin to appreciate his domestic policies,” says Stephens.

Minimalism serves as one of the play’s great advantages. As the playwright explains, as soon as he finishes the first stages of writing a play, he begins paring it down. “It is like scaffolding. You need it to construct a building, but as soon as the building is ready, you get rid of the scaffolds. In general, I am very interested in the use of language, in pauses, in silences.” According to the playwright, writing cannot offer answers, it can just pose the right questions, even if it is necessary to shock the viewers.

One of the most important relationships examined in the play is that between Danny and his autistic brother. Danny’s world is one dominated by cynicism and nihilism. His brother is the only living proof of sensitivity that he can reach out to. “It is very difficult for an actor to play an autistic person, because autistic people have their feelings locked up. The irony is that the autistic brother says the only true thing about morality. And he is supposed to be the one bereft of feelings.”

Apart from Giorgos Gallos, the play also features Yiannis Tsortsekis, Efthymios Papadimitriou, Katerina Lypiridou, Pantelis Dentakis and others. The sets and costumes have been designed by Margarita Hadziioannou.

At The Neos Cosmos Theater, 7 Antisthenous and Tharypou Street, Neos Cosmos, Athens, tel 210 9212900. “Motortown” is being staged at the theater loft Wednesdays to Saturdays at 9.15 p.m. as well as Sundays at 7.30 p.m.

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