“ELISABETH, A SPIRIT ON FIRE”
a play by Natalia Katsou
THEATRE GROUP “EN SPOUDI”
IN THEATRE TIS ANOIXIS (20, GERMANIKOU STR., ATHENS- APRIL 2007)
AND THEATRE PARAMYTHIAS (18, PARAMYTHIAS STR. -MAY 2007)
Elisabeth: DIMITRA VLACHOU
Mother: MARIA KOULOURI
Maria: MALAMA PANGRATI
Aggeliki: KATERINA KARAGIANNI
Elisavetios: VASSILIS PAPALAZAROU
DIRECTION: NATALIA KATSOU
SCENOGRAPHY: DIMITRIS ZAFEIRIOU
LIGHTING: GIANNIS VOLLELIS
MUSIC: MANOS APOSTOLOPOULOS
Actors in the video:
LEFTERIS ELEFTHERIOU (young man)
AGGELOS TRIANTAFYLLOU (teacher)
VIDEO DIRECTOR: MARIANNA KONTOULI
EDITING: IOANNA ASMENIADOU-FOKA
GETTING TO KNOW “ELISABETH”
The play “ELISABETH, A SPIRIT ON FIRE” regards the first greek woman writer, Elisabeth Moutzan-Martinengou, that lived in Zakynthos (like Dionysios Solomos, the national poet). I had spotted her Autobiography on my mother’s library when I was a child and I was charmed by this personality since then.
Her autobiography is her only work to have survived the great fire that destroyed great part of the island of Zakynthos in 1956, along with the files and the plays Elisabeth had written. That’s really ironic, knowing that Elisabeth had wished to communicate with the world through her writing. In a patriarchic environment, considering women as something neglectable, in the years of Greek Revolution (1821-1828), we find Elisabeth trapped in the house, not having the right to go out without being accompanied by her father. Nevertheless she had two teachers, which was unusual, two bright men who transmitted Elisabeth the ideas of Europe. And she was obliged to follow the common fate of women of her time: get married to someone she had never met according to parents bargain… She preferred the Monastery, she even try to get away, to go to Italy and become a nun; that would permit her to read and write and think as a free spirit.
Her life ended up in a tragedy, like her work, she died very young, delivering a boy. She had already written 24 plays, following European models, such as Moliere.
We feel the obligation and the desire to turn an advantage of her autobiography, her passion, her ideas, her strength. Taking what’s left of her work seriously, considering with respevt and humor, as she herself used it to describe the difficulties of life. Even this autobiography is a struggle to get to us, she knew we would find it, Elisabeth doesn’t get despaired, does not resign, she does not let us in darkness. On the contrary she becomes a shining compass for everyone.
ELISABETH, SPIRIT ON FIRE
Or a mortal Muse
Elisabeth Moutzan- Martinengou, born and lived in Zakynthos (1801-1832) is a question, a delicate and bright spirit that existed only through her writing. She longed to speak, to confirm her being through writing. Elisabeth revealed herself to me when I was a child, she stood there on a shelf among others… And when such insiders allow us to see them, and maybe speak with them, it is miraculous and dangerous. When I realized all I could have of her was her Autobiography and nothing more –all her work was in handwriting and was destroyed in the great fire of Zakynthos in 1956 where they were kept without ever having been published until then- I got stubborn. There must be a way to see in her: This woman, a revolutionary of the thought, and, not to her knowledge, a pioneer for the language, since she wrote in modern greek in her own way, using the idioms of her island, all she wanted was to be heard. Trapped in a house, in an era where man ruled everything, and Greek people ruled almost nothing, she needed to raise her voice. We see that because she addresses her autobiography to any possible reader. Yet, luck cut the way she planned: her work (1821-1830) travelled from hand to hand, from specialist to specialist, from century to century until they became ashes without having ever been set free. Like all women of her time, she did not have any rights, not even to her own body. Elisabeth got over the melodrama and she was the first to conceive the irrational of human , and especially women oppression. She saw herself as a symbol, an example of reality and she tried to reverse it. In the same way she re-created herself, by selecting the fragments and the way she would narrate them in her personal story. Every time I read it I can see Elisabeth-the writer at her desk, half-lighted, half-afraid of being seen, trying to concentrate facts, observations, emotions, and at the same time Elisabeth-the woman, the spirit “dressed the long dresses of woman slavery”, in her personal fight for freedom and creation on an island, conscious that the world is much wider than that island.
So, the story of Elisabeth cannot be squeezed in some dialogues and pictures. Nor a documentary or a history film could liberate the strength and the will she had in her. That is why imagination , after considerable study of all the sources that are to our disposal on her life and work, fills the missing-censored by her son?- points. Her own words is the ground that allows us to take a look through the kaleidoscope she watched the world. And it is true her writing style is very “alive”, ready to be performed. Elisabeth is a muse, a never-ending sacred desire for Creation and Art, for each one’s personal truth, for “whatever Nature can do, without the help of artificial” as she puts it.