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Theater takes on the challenge of Roidis’s controversial “Popess Joan” March 17, 2008

Posted by grhomeboy in Stage & Theater.
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Director Sotiris Hatzakis and art director Lydia Koniordou have opted to use puristic version > Emmanuel Roidis’s condemning language of 150 years ago remains contemporary,’ says director Sotiris Hatzakis. Performances of his theatrical adaptation begin March 21 at Patras’s Apollon Theater.

A century-and-a-half has elapsed since Emmanuel Roidis shocked the Nation and was excommunicated by the Greek Orthodox Church for his novel “I Papissa Ioanna”  [Popess Joan]. Even today, this legendary work continues to provoke, not so much as a scandalous literary outing but as a work that is extremely daring, disrespectful, biting and venomous. Its appeal is ongoing because this is a well-structured, imaginative and surprise-laden novel delivered in the writer’s typically scintillating and ironic style. The question is whether all these elements can be transfered to the stage. It is only natural to respond reservedly to a theater’s decision to stage Roidis’s “Popess Joan”. The concern is accentuated further by past attempts, such as those by Giorgos Roussos and Gerasimos Stavros, where the only aspect preserved was the plot. Now, Roidis’s old classic is being prepared for a staging by the Regional Municipal Theater of Patras, presently under the artistic direction of esteemed actress Lydia Koniordou. Performances, at the city’s Apollon Theater, begin on March 21. The production, Sotiris Hatzakis, will then be brought to Athens in May before returning to its base for performances around the region’s Achaia prefecture.

Initially, Hatzakis had intended to stage a theatrical adaptation of novelist Pavlos Matesis’s “Mitera tou Skylou” [Dog’s Mother] but that plan fell through and he subsequently proposed staging the Roidis classic, a work he had contemplated for a while, “because of its history and language,” in the director’s words.

“The play tells the story of an orphan girl who wanders through medieval gloom and learns about the art of survival. She is surrounded by violence and hypocrisy, but is armed with intelligence and power of reasoning, which help her adapt to the conditions and measure up to others. To survive, she resorts to transvestism by donning a male monk’s cassock and playing the role,” commented Hatzakis. “As a monk, she rises through the Catholic church’s hierarchy. She undergoes changes and the hot-blooded girl of the outdoor life and erotic and pagan stories is transformed into an icy traveler. When she is finally declared Pope, the little that remains of her moral values begins to be totally demolished. The moment she conquers the very top and calms down, the subsequent boredom she feels awakens her womb, which had hibernated for years … she gets wrapped up amid a flowering of feelings and ends up pregnant. And that is the beginning of her end.”

Considering the novel’s language, didn’t the director have second thoughts when thinking about taking this work to the stage?

“Yes, and they were even greater than the ones I felt when I thought about doing Alexandros Papadiamantis’s ‘The Murderess’, which we did with Lydia Koniordou. Because, here, apart from various other things, we have to deal with a relentless take on puristic Greek that is rigid and untouched, without the looser moments of Papadiamantis’s fused language,” said Hatzakis. “Here, we have a writer who is phlegmatic, possesses high-quality irony, and launches an attack on the Catholic Church in a cold-blooded fashion – all this through his use of language.”

In preserving Roidis’s old-school puristic Greek language, the director, responding to a question, said he was not worried about modern-day audiences having problems understanding the play.

“I’m not afraid of this at all. Of course, there were some concerns at first, as had also been the case with ‘The Murderess’, which ended up being groundless,” remarked Hatzakis, who added that when taking on such a project one should not be driven to concerns about whether it will be “understood by the people … It should be more a case of ‘let’s see how the public will react. It’s an opportunity to see how such a venture will work out. With this venture, I’m taking a stand against the recent trend to translate works into the vernacular.”

Asked whether it was possible to transfer the irony of Roidis’s language onto the stage, Hatzakis admitted that this proved to be a real challenge, and one that remains untested.

“We’ve taken a leap and only the end result will tell us if we’ve been successful. However, we have been having a great time at rehearsals, discovering a forward-looking text that was as controversial as could be during its time, and which still stirs waters today. Because when the break with power is truly revolutionary and relentless, it condemns its structure and abuse in a timeless fashion.”

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