What a thrill it is to take your seat in the ancient Roman theater of Herodes Atticus, located right in the heart of Athens with the Parthenon perched immediately above, and experience a live classical performance. And what a blessing it is to relive Agamemnon, the first instalmment of Aeschylus' dramatic trilogy, Oresteia, under the superb direction of your fellow classmate and longtime girlfriend, Niketi Kondouri.
I have fond memories of Niketi when we were studying together in the Department of Political Science at the Law School of Athens. She was a joyful party girl who was taking drama classes at Athens' National Theatre School in tandem with her law studies. I was convinced that, one day, Niketi would cause me to shed tears of emotion and pride as a result of her great talent with respect to ancient Greek drama.
In replying to why she chose to stage Agamemnon, Niketi states, "I have seen various performances of the trilogy Oresteia in Greece and in Europe. I even took an acting role in two Greek productions and I must say that I found the theme staggering!"
In Aeschylus' Oresteia (Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers, The Eumenides>), the great ancient Greek dramatist grapples with the law of the Gods and the terror with which the "dark" Gods with autocratic ideas and values define the fate of a people. In the three parts of the tragedy, the common folk live in fear but it is through this fear that they are able to see what tyranny is and seek out some other system of ideas to redeem them from their fears. In the end, a fairer and more humane system of governance and justice evolves that can not be self-imposed but must result from the application of the rule of law.
What was it that attracted Niketi to this cruelest of Greek tragedies where Clytemnestra, the wife of the victorious King Agamemnon, coldly plots his death upon his return from the Trojan War? "Throughout the trilogy there is a clash of ancient and modern deities," she says. "Lots of blood is spilled and it is very violent but, in the end, democracy triumphs (The Eumenides, final play of the trilogy). The personalities of the Agamemnon tragedy are very modern whose relevance to today's world leaves you speechless. They have true values but, at the same time, are full of weaknesses and this combination of poetry and reality is paramount in its ability to produce glorious heroes. And the texts are a truly unique worldwide cultural heritage!"
Years ago, Niketi directed Medea, the infamous killer of her children, and last summer, together with the Municipal Theater of Kozani, she emphasized the role of Clytemnestra as brutal husband-killer. In response to why she is so fascinated by women murderers, she says, "I attempted to interpret Agamemnon through the use of the archetypical figure of the androgynous Queen of Argos, Clytemnestra. For Aeschylus, the sacrifice of his daughter, Iphigenia, by Agamemnon, in order to appease the Gods and bring his army to Troy, is the reason for Clytemnestra's hatred of her husband Agamemnon and for which she massacres him along with his mistress, Cassandra."
"The mother whose child is slaughtered takes on the role of 'mother-avenger-punisher" throughout the history of mankind. She may be queen or commoner but she will find a way to revenge what is, for her, the ultimate injustice. In Agamemnon, the recipient of this vengeance is none other than the mighty King of Argos and conqueror of Troy, Agamemnon himself but Clytemnestra is not done yet, carrying her rage one step further by murdering his concubine, Cassandra, as well."
Niketi goes on to explain that it was Aeschylus who opted to put a woman to kill her husband as Homer makes no mention of this in The Iliad.
As to why she prefers to mount ancient Greek tragedies rather than comedies, Niketi cries, "The tragedies have everything! They have strong structure, overbearing characters and suspense while, at the same time, they hide an underlying humor. Human conflicts and emotions may be easily recognizable and familiar yet they are difficult to interpret and capture as a process to self-awareness, as a vehicle towards the liberating euphoria of catharsis. I feel that every time I am confronted by them, that they open a new window in my life. We enrich ourselves by studying Classic ancient Greek texts," she continues, "and ancient drama teaches us that human nature remains unchanged through time."
Niketi would like to direct other works of ancient Greek writers as well as those of modern European and American authors. She would also like to complete the staging of the full Oresteia trilogy by adding the final two works to her repertoire. "Now I am beginning my beloved Justine," she says, "and I might not have time to finish. Between us, why would I want to put an end to this?"
Her real dream, however, "is to roam the ancient Greek theater to the ends of the world where there are lovers of ancient Greek drama, where people are moved by the principles of tragedy and its catharsis."
Niketi Kondouri has a B.A. in Political Science from Athens Law School and an M.A. in Theatre and Film from Hunter College. She has worked as an actor, musician, assistant director, assistant artistic director and director in Athens and New York. She has directed Medea (Euripides), Antigone (Sophocles), Tartuffe (Molière), Othello (Shakespeare), Miss Julie (Strindberg), The Dollhouse and Hedda Gabler (Ibsen), Siblings (Goethe), Betrayal (Pinter), Higher than the Bridge (Miller) and numerous other plays.