The war is never over, when it officially ends. The trauma often haunts its survivors for the rest of their lives – especially those who were hatched in its days; and who would expect a healthy bird coming out of a black egg?
Dionysis Charitopoulos, not a playwright by profession, was commissioned by Antonis Antoniou to write Black Eggs in 1995. In this, his first theatrical endeavour, he deals with the disgraceful Greek civil war (1946-1949), a sensitive period of Greek history – probably for the first time from the point of view of those who still pay a sour price for its atrocities.
The characters of the play, Spyros (Antonis Antoniou) and Maria (Natassa Assiki), are two middle aged siblings that meet in the latter’s spotlessly clean flat. Spyros, as a boy, was old enough when the war started to witness everything: the cold winters in the cave, the hunger, the fear, the murder of both parents, the violent flight of the panicky villagers. In his eyes, his father – a leftist rebel – was a good man, a hero who suffered and died for his ideas. That was not the case for the girl, who was born in the cave, “like an animal”, and was soon transferred to an orphanage. Deprived of maternal affection and paternal support, she is now unable to cope with the neuroses and depression caused by the prolonged experience of fear, loneliness, frustration and rejection in her early childhood. Maria blames her ruined life on her father, who – she insists – stood up for his beliefs, but not for his family. Her only moments of relief are her brother’s recollections of the past, the only evidence that she had ever been a child herself.
Antonis Antoniou is magnificent as Spyros, a man trying to comfort his sister, excuse and justify his flight as a child (leaving his baby sister alone), reestablish – in her eyes – their father’s honour and understand the ignorance and indifference of their own children – while at the same time fighting with his own phobias. Natassa Assiki is riveting as the cleaning-obsessed Maria. She is particularly moving in her subtle transitions from anger, to despair, to relief, to childish innocence.
The script is well written and balanced; it incites thinking instead of spoon feeding the audience with didactic messages and historical stereotypes – save from the recurring “it was a civil war, people killed one another. Such an evil must not be repeated”. It is deeply touching without for a moment becoming a cheap melodrama. Antoniou’s direction helps to this end; avoiding the superfluous and the unnecessary, he relies mostly on the delivery of the words and the power of the strong images that they create.
Well presented and timelier now than twenty years ago that it was written, Black Eggs is one of the gems this theatre season.