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On the Road of Greek Theater

The Dresser tried to talk her sister Lisa into going to Greece. Come on, Sistah, this is going to be a family affair, but Lisa said she didn't have a passport and the trip would cost too much. When the Dresser returned from Greece at the end of July, she couldn't stop reading about things Greek and one of her San Francisco friends, knowing her taste in literature, sent her The Road to Epidauros by Jeanne Fuchs. And there she was--Jeanne Fuchs, her sister in travel.

The-Road-to-Epidauros.jpgThe Road to Epidauros is first a travel diary that chronicles July 10 to 31, 1990, as an exceptional three-week trip to Greece. The Greek director Andreas Voutsinas invited Jeanne Fuchs to witness the lead up and premiere of his production of Medea which would culminate in Epidauros where the best-preserved theater of the ancient world still operates.

The work is also observations of an astute veteran of theater and the artistic world, a how-to navigate Greek life, an exuberant Greek culinary tour, and various psychological profiles.

Since the Dresser spent time visiting ancient classical theaters at the Acropolis and Delphi, her curiosity was piqued about Epidauros. Epidauros is less than 40 minutes from Athens. During the summer months from June 1 through August 18, an annual arts program called the Athens & Epidaurus Festival runs. Epidaurus, featuring its exemplary acoustics, is where the classicist Sophocles premiered.

Epidaurus.jpg
On the one hand, Fuchs offers her up-close and personal stories of famous people like Jane Fonda and Melina Mercouri. Fonda, who was being coached by Voutsinas, appeared in a mink coat in her apartment house where people including Fuchs were waiting to go to Fonda's audition to become a member of Actors Studio. Her scene was from Butterfield 8 where Gloria (the character made famous by Elizabeth Taylor) wore only a slip and a mink coat. Fonda and Fuchs shared a moment where they giggled over the approving reactions of the male elevator operator and the doorman--the men thought she should always dress like this--and then Fonda hits up Fuchs for a loan of $10 so she can pay for cab fare to the Studio. Fuchs reports that Mercouri, who once played Medea at Epidauros, made her way to the dressing room of the young woman named Lydia who Voutsinas selected to be his Medea. (Fuchs doesn't always provide last names, which probably means she couldn't get permission to do so.) Mercouri hugs and kisses Lydia saying she was the best Medea she had ever seen. Here Fuchs says that from a distance, "[Mercouri] looks as I remembered her from the movies: flawless bone structure and flashing eyes" but "up close, Mercouri looks old and gaunt. She has big teeth that dominate her face and her skin seemed sallow."

On the other hand, Fuchs is a master of the everyday details that has the reader climbing into bed with her as she reads Lawrence Durrell. Fuchs is funny, saying she went to bed with Durrell. (Meanwhile, the Dresser was going to bed with Lawrence's brother Gerald, reading his laugh-outloud memoire My Family and Other Animals.) Fuchs had already explained how she and Voutsinas, a bisexual, were never lovers and she also detailed how she fended off various Greek men during this trip. The world of love and attraction is more varied in Greece. As Fuchs noted about a young woman who gives Fuchs her address. Fuchs wondered if the woman was a lesbian and comments, "...but maybe everyone is. It's Greece." On the 2018 night of the total eclipse of the Blood Moon when the moon turned red, could be seen by even the Dresser's weak naked eye in contrast to Mars--the red planet, she was standing in the road near the port of Amorgos when a woman came at her on a scooter. She was clearly flirting. "Oh," the Dresser said a little worried the woman would run over her, "I'm waiting for my friends." She was but only to send them off to a concert up in the hills. Was the flirting just a bit of natural "lunacy" or just an everyday scanning of new possibilities? As Fuchs wrote, It's Greece. No need to overthink this kind of interaction.

What the Dresser particularly appreciated is how Fuchs dropped in details about Greek life that were mysteries to a first-time visitor to Greece. For example, every night she seemed to eat dinner at an extremely late hour. This happens because everyone disappears in the afternoon for a long nap during the searing heat of the day, not to mention theater people always eat late because who can eat before performing? Because the Dresser was traveling with her friend Catherine, a Greek-American whose family members in Greece asked her to bring a huge quantity of the antacid Tums, Fuchs' aside: "It'll be a minor miracle if I don't die of indigestion before I leave" was all the more sadly comic. The Dresser had one of those moments at a church panegyri in the hills of Amorgos where everyone was served a late-night bowl of stew made with goat and potatoes. For this meal that should only be eaten on the coldest day of winter, the Dresser had to order up what she calls a drink of Drano--a can of Coca Cola.

andreas-voutsinas.jpg

Before Voutsinas' Medea is mounted on the stage of Epidauros, the company worked on the production in the northern city of Thessaloniki. Early in Fuchs' diary, she described this after-rehearsal, midnight dinner: "squash pancakes with skordalia (a garlic and potato spread), lamb kebabs, keftedes (Greek meatballs--maybe made with mint or ouzo, recipes vary), Greek salad (usually tomato, cucumber, purple onion, feta, olives), and white wine. Fuchs is into reporting what she put into her mouth, including how on the Lufthansa plane she was served a bottle of Rosebacher, "Urqelle Stilles Mineralwasser." The Dresser, 28 years later, was also given Rosebacher and documented that by taking a photo of it. The Dresser thought It's unusual because it contains a significant amount of calcium.

Medea.jpg
Euripides play Medea is a painful play about family relations. Medea's husband Jason tells her he is leaving the marriage for another woman. So, Medea murders Jason's new wife and worse she kills the children she had with Jason. One of the quiet dramas in The Road to Epidauros is Andreas Voutsinas' inability to love and appreciate his son Marios because Voutsinas had such disdain for his former wife, Marios' mother. However, Fuchs' multidimensional story has an August 2010 Postscript in which some of the people who had been involved in the Medea production get together to spread Voutsinas' remains in the theater, this action being the last wish of his. Voutsinas' son Marios, who now looks very much like his father--gray beard too, attends and tells Fuchs that before his father's death, they had reconciled. It's a moving end note to the slights the father had exacted on the son.marios-voutsinas.jpg

Alexandra Kostoulas' poem "Home. Not Home" puts a concise cap on The Road to Epidauros by Jeanne Fuchs. The home, made by the mythologists (mirologoi) in our time (as noted by mention of the iPad), is complete with a special Greek desert wine (mavrodaphne) and chocolates while the living honor the dead and speak of their lives to come. Life is always about family rooted in the ancestral village, now abandoned by the poet who lives in America. As the Dresser told her sister Lisa, the trip would be about family, the Greek families that took her into their hearts as she did the same. Night one in 2018, the Dresser met nine family members of Catherine's for a large seafood feast at Port Rafina. Four nights later, the Dresser saw the shocking images of fire and destruction on TV. She worried about these family members since some of them lived in the community struck by the huge fire that killed 74 people. The gods were with these family members and all of them were fine. The Dresser could continue in this vein with more blessed encounters of these loving Greeks who made her holiday a homecoming, but she will let the curtain fall and invite you, Dear Reader, to read between the lines. With gratitude to my friend Donnali Fifield for sending the Dresser The Road to Epidauros and to Jeanne Fuchs for writing it.

HOME. NOT HOME

I cried as the red moon rose.
We listened to mirologoi that
randomly came on my iPad.
We drank mavrodaphne and ate chocolate.
We spoke of the dead
and of our regrets and our hopes.
In my dad's village--
where I belong
and where I don't.

by Alexandra Kostoulas

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on August 19, 2018 11:28 AM.

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