Director Theodoros Terzopoulos takes Greek tragedy seriously. And it is not just because he is Greek. “Everybody can direct Greek tragedy the way he wants based on his tradition, his culture, country, its history,” he told the press after arriving in Taipei Tuesday. But as the founder of the Attis Theater Group and a former artistic director of the International Meeting of Ancient Drama in Delphi, he believes that the roots of this kind of theater in Greece count for something.
Attis’s visit is the first of a major Greek theater group to perform at the National Theater in Taipei. They are presenting Prometheus Bound, a play that goes to the very root of the interaction between the human and the divine. The story tells of Prometheus, who after helping the god Zeus defeat the Titans, defies him through the gift of fire and knowledge to mankind, an act that is punished by his eternal imprisonment chained to a cliff.
Speaking about the play, Terzopoulos said the fact that the protagonist is largely static throughout, and the powerful emotions that are expressed in various exchanges between Prometheus and other characters, dictate the technique and language of his production.
“If you see Greek tragedy from a Russian director, it is so sentimental. It’s like psychological drama. They use the techniques of Stanislavsky… The Italian theater make their interpretation based on their language, it is all in the voice… It is like a song. This is their language. In France, again it is the same problem. There they eat half their words. That is their language… But in tragedy you must make everything clear. French is the language of diplomacy, but in diplomacy you say something and you keep half inside. This is French tradition,” Terzopoulos said.
While Terzopoulos was not being entirely serious with this run down of the flaws in European interpretations of Greek tragedy, he went on to add that Chinese theater, with its complex and intricately codified symbolic vocabularies, was remarkably close to Greek tragedy. Another similarity between Greek drama and traditional Chinese theater, though not one explicitly drawn by Terzopoulos, was that tragedy is performed not for an audience of humans, but for the gods. In the case of Prometheus Bound, Aeschylus comes to grips directly with man seeking godlike powers to free himself from constraints imposed by others.
“It is about a fundamental conflict. The actors must have big energy, discipline and looking always to the god, not to the audience as you would in a drama,” Terzopoulos said.
Although it was written over 2,000 years ago, Terzopoulos believes that Prometheus Bound has plenty to say to a modern audience because the conflicts it deals with are fundamental to humanity. “In this play you do not see the middle class or aristocrats. What you see are victims. You see the view of one victim, not the view of the winner. How one victim sees and makes a critique of the winner. It is actually very similar to Bertolt Brecht.”