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Reviewed by:
  • Ο Καζαντζάκης και το Θέατρο
  • Vrasidas Karalis
Kyriaki Petrakou, Κυριακή Πετάκου, Ο Καζαντζάκης και το Θέατρο. Athens: Militos Publications. 2005. Pp. 17 + 715, 63 photographs, 3 indexes. Hardback €35.00.

This monumental study contains everything that a dedicated reader of Nikos Kazantzakis's work should know about his theatrical works. It represents an immense labor of love and a major achievement of thorough philological research which finally reaches, for better or worse, the hitherto philosophically inclined [End Page 278] Kazantzakian studies. Yet, after 700 pages, the question remains whether his plays still have something to say or, if indeed, they ever said anything at all.

Petrakou delves deep into the historical details of each one of his plays; she discusses various aspects of their compositions, Kazantzakis's assessment of them, examines past performances and their reception, and finally attempts a historical contextualization of each play. She seems to be trying to find some order or an implied pattern of development in Kazantzakis's theater and explain some of his most paradoxical and ambiguous pronouncements, like the cryptic motto in many of his early works: "this play was not written for the theater at all."

The reader of the book must first admire Petrakou's monumental work and investigative curiosity; the material collected is endless and extremely exciting while occasionally overwhelming. The long descriptions of plots will be welcomed by readers unfamiliar with the plays, but they have little appeal for specialists who may be the main target audience of this book.

The most interesting part of the author's analysis of individual plays is where she discusses the reception of their performances. The implied conclusion is that most critics understood and evaluated them from within a tradition of theatrical realism, or pseudo-realism, and, therefore, were generally hostile and unable to find anything good in them. Indeed it seems that only directors, Alexis Solomos in particular, seem to have been intrigued by his dramas.

Yet, as with the rest of his work, Kazantzakis's plays seem to come from nowhere in Greek literature. They are full of references with which very few were probably familiar at the time of their composition, they introduce experiments with form and language that were totally misinterpreted by popular critics, and they dramatized states of mind and emotion that looked totally "imported" to the taste of the Athenian urban middle class conditioned mainly by French boulevard plays.

From his early attempts, Kazantzakis set out to construct a holistic theater which would dramatize existential and social questions through heterogeneous forms of symbolic representation and non-Aristotelian principles of performing. It is a baroque form of theater closer to Pedro Calderón and Shakespeare than to Sophocles or Bernard Shaw. To its "alien-ness," we must add Kazantzakis's personal quest for finding the adequate form for his holistic theater representing characters in a state of constant crisis. Many critics complain that, in his many plays, there is really only one character who appears under different names. This is absolutely wrong and misleading; e.g., Kazantzakis's early Christ and late Buddha are not simply different, but they dramatize completely different theatrical principles and concerns.

It must be admitted that Kazantzakis's characters are indeed too theatrical; they perform their theatricality and think aloud and they act out ideas and emotions of an introspective conscience in its constant attempt to impose equilibrium in a world of unfathomable and uncontrollable immensities. This explains the very "Christian" thematology of his plays; Kazantzakis's Christianity is similar to that of Blaise Pascal and St. Augustine: his heroes are gazing at the immensities of space and time with hope and are peering into the fragmented self of historical existence with fear and awe. [End Page 279]

One could claim that in his theater Kazantzakis tried to redefine the concept and the visual representation of the tragic as an existential dimension. In his essay, "Drama and Contemporary Man," he stated:

We are born in an interesting era, full of incoherent attempts, adventures and conflicts; conflicts not as in the past, between virtues and vices but—and that's the most tragic—between virtues themselves…. The old accepted virtues started now losing their prestige, and cannot any more be sufficient for the religious...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3265
Print ISSN
0738-1727
Pages
pp. 278-281
Launched on MUSE
2010-07-09
Open Access
No
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