Americana

Maria Vigar
The Hellenic Centre and the Maria Vigar Team
The Hellenic Centre

The Greek Civil War saw those who had fought against the invader turn on each other at the end of the Second World War. The conflict between ideologies divided families and inflicted wounds that still fester. It is a very difficult subject to write about without being partisan but Maria Vigar achieves it with her tactful handling of the emotional story of a peasant woman and her family by concentrating on people rather than politics: this is not a polemic.

Americana is what the villagers call the peasant woman whose husband went to America seven years ago. She waited for him to send for her and their children but he didn’t and then the war came. Now the partisans who fought against the Germans are fighting each other she is a prisoner in her own house.

She hid two young communists from the fascists but the communists who now control her village think she is a traitor. Perhaps it is because of her husband, because hers is the best house in the village and because she tried to stop them taking her children when they were sending children to safety in Russia.

She doesn’t know that her eldest daughter Katerina is now happily with the communists and planning to go into the mountains with them despite being lame, a lameness inflicted by her mother in an attempt to keep her from her leaving.

Maria Vigar plays both mother and daughter, her face shedding the years along with the mother’s shawl. While the mother despairs, the daughter is discovering a world where women are given value and Katerina is full of optimism for the future. She writes to tell her mother but the Americana is illiterate and believing it to be an indictment against her she tragically anticipates her own execution.

John Ioannou’s production is simply mounted on a stage bare except for a table and chair and the bundle of blankets from which the Americana emerges. An opening video by Ben Glover graphically establishes landscape and warfare and his projections identify the women’s locations. A grey image of a high-up grating through which a little light enters suggests a cellar where the mother is held, with a colourful glimpse of village and hillside where Katerina is.

An atmospheric score by Ian Schofield (beautifully played on clarinet and percussion by Rachel Coe) provides emotional colour and marks transitions from one character to the other.

By making the Americana a woman who seem not to really understand what is going on, Vigar’s script can blur details that might otherwise be questioned and deliberately avoid precise political issues. This concentrates on the personal story of a series of unintended betrayals and a moment in Greek history becomes a reflection of the tragedy of civil conflict anywhere and of its effect on innocent lives. Though set 75 years ago, it presents an experience that still tears the modern world to pieces. Maria Vigar plays both roles with feeling. She avoids the melodramatic while delivering a performance that goes deeper than the surface text.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton