Saturday, August 25, 2012

Euripides' "Helen" in Times Square


Our positive or negative view of matters depends on the way we perceive and decode time. We find this element of time in Euripides' play. Helen asks Teucer how long it has been since the sack of  Troy. She receives the answer: "It's been seven years that feel like ten." And she asks again: "and before that, you were in Troy for how long?" The answer: "Ten". Surely, we understand that time is very important for the heroes of our drama. What is happening? Has time stopped existing for Helen? A possible answer is that Helen does not speak about time from an objective point of view but from a subjective point of view. She talks about her inner sense of time. I could give you some clear-cut examples to clarify any possible misunderstandings of the concept of time.

The time spent rehearsing and preparing for the play "Helen" is objective. However, the  stressful period until the premiere of the show is subjective for the people involved in the play. Meaning, they perceive differently what time offers and what it takes away.

In New York, we come across skyscrapers. We understand that time seems to outclass the element of space. We feel the tension in matters. American people accept the responsibility of bearing the cost of change contrary to the situation in Greece where we face the problem of the increase in the number of civil servants and the construction of a lawless, timeless, made-of-cement Athens. Even worse, Greece has come up to the point of becoming a country that does not resolve to make some structural changes. Namely, crime has reached such a high level that people are afraid of going out on the streets, of moving around freely and they prefer living shut in their homes because they don't have the courage, under these circumstances of financial misery, to go out and find new ways of communicating. Our house may not let us move around freely but it can make us feel safe.

Isn't this too a kind of tyranny?

Let's go back to New York. New York is a place far away but also very close to our everyday life. Tourists feel like they are lifted up high (Manhattan). They perceive the energy of a superpower on 5th Avenue, at Dow Jones, on 42nd Street, in the famous Times Square, where all cultural events take place. However, there is a danger that is not easily perceived. Americans have turned time into money. Money=feeling=present. Let's cite an example.

The skull is a very familiar symbol. Lately, we find skulls in different colors and sizes everywhere. This new fashion trend is a part of many collections, bracelets, hair pins, dresses, T-shirts. For this print on a T-shirt people pay the (not to so small) sum of 380 €.

Recently, I visited the Metropolitan Museum of art and witnessed the queues of visitors, fans and otherwise, of the exposition dedicated to the designer Alexander McQueen called "Savage Beauty". The symbol of the skull  became prominent after the designer's unexpected death.

Despite his death, the Alexander McQueen brand continued promoting deathly and aggressive creations. Undoubtedly, this is a creator in vogue. I think so because thousands of people wait in line for this exposition and perhaps neglect other timeless works that remain eternal and immortal. I'm talking about works of art that were created thousands of years ago and offer us a glimpse of immortality.

To sum up: The human skull is a sign of warning against lethal danger. Which is that danger for me?
Time. Because when does death become cruel? When it is a part of time.

For the Ancient Greeks death was never cruel. Because the way of life was different. Contemporary cultures are afraid of death.

Euripides does not consider death as the end. His heroes overcome their passions and reach something grander than time. At the end of the play, Theoclymenus says: "Oh! Great sons of Zeus! I threw my pride away!" Time is the enemy of the Ego. Because Ego dies.

Euripides complains because time has taken the place of eternity, hence the tomb of Proteus. That's the reason why I use a clock in the show. "The abyss of time is a mass grave for all of us."

Like in his time, Euripides would still believe nowadays that we have entered an era of Time. However, he gives us an answer that can be helpful.

Time is not alone. Euripides, like all the ancient dramatists, taught his dramas in the most suitable place for communication: the theatre!

This is where the fundamental communication between people is found. The heroes, by transcending their limits, are able to witness the ultimate prize. After the end of the tragedy the audience can manage time with the help of an inner rebirth (catharsis).

Nowadays we face problems that lead to this question = In the end, are we free? Those of us who have the ability to overcome our passions are free.

With this play, Euripides tried to teach us that our absolute tyrant is our utopia. Our whole life is a chase, an "empty shirt" as George Seferis said, the chase of an ideal situation that we will never reach, but still, we torture ourselves being its servants. Yet, we should realize that we serve a tyrant that rules over us and to whom we will never be able to say "no".

Because Helen is Καλλιπάρηον= has a beautiful face.

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