The Greek National Theatre is currently enjoying one of its most successful runs with a critically acclaimed production of Mourning Becomes Electra selling out, night after night.
The play was originally penned by the American playwright, Eugene O’Neill, who reworked the classic Greek myth of Orestes and updated it to tell the story of the Mannon family of New England in the years following the American Civil War.
As the Artistic Director of the theatre, and director of the play, Yannis Houvardas, explains, the piece’s relevance to modern Greece was significant in both its selection and its success: “Mourning Becomes Electra is an adaptation of ‘Oresteia’ by Aeschylus. This is an obvious reason why we chose it. But the most important reason is that the play, in its core, deals with the family. The destruction of the Mannon Family and the tense relationships among its members, in my opinion, explain many of the tortures that we have lived as a nation, and which we continue to endure.”
The protagonists’ struggles reveal the corrosion of the bourgeoisie as they suffocate under the rigidity of Puritanism. Actress Karyofyllia Karabeti, who plays Christine Mannon, found she could relate to the suffocation experienced by her character: “They are forced to live their lives in this way. Instead of focusing on the real existence and the beauty of love, freedom and joy, around them, they get entangled by the laws that this society has imposed, by the strict religious and social structures. The result of all this is that they actually live in a very morbid condition.”
For the lead actor, Christos Loulis, the piece is one which deconstructs what happens when an edifice of order gradually crumbles and those trapped inside are dragged down with it: “The play speaks about duty. About the fate that we have and we cannot avoid. But above all, it talks about the life that we haven’t lived. It is our suicidal trend, not to look up in the sky but to jump over the cliff. That’s why this play concerns us. This is human nature. We all think about death, even when we are still alive,” he said
The closing performance of Mourning Becomes Electra is set for 19th May and Yannis Houvardas’ contract finishes two days earlier. But given the organisation’s dire financial situation, a successor has not yet been announced. His adoring public can only hope that the Greek National Theatre will not go the same way as so many other cultural institutions and be forced to make a final bow.