Unexpected relatives

by Alissa Rubinstein

Berlin, May 16th 2013. I have a confession to make. A couple days ago, I wouldn’t have been able to find Cyprus on a map. But now I know! It’s right here!

In fact, I know lots of things now that I didn’t know before (sorry, I couldn’t help myself… the American theater nerd and her musicals…), such as, 1) Cypriot Greek, in addition to being very different from Modern Greek, lends itself hilariously well to rap, which itself has recently been making quite the name for itself in musicals-land, to the American musical, 2) the overbearing stage mother is truly a universal musical theater character, and 3) you don’t need all sorts of fancy 21st century multimedia magic to create a truly magical, important 21st century theatrical experience that manages to riff on the current financial crisis and the power of the imagination in the same hour.

Suffice it to say, when I left the theater Tuesday night after seeing the "Kali-Kantzar and Co", an American-style musical from the Cyprus Theatre Organisation in Nicosia, my cheeks were sore from smiling for so long. The fantastic thing about this piece was that there was so much that was deeply familiar to me, but the basic building blocks of a play – the words – were Cypriot Greek. I felt drawn in and driven back at the same time. I couldn’t look away. A fast paced script by Lea Maleni (who also directed), Christina Constantinou and Valentinos Kokkinos, fabulously fun, intricate costumes and sets designed by Elena Katsouri, upbeat music from Demetris Zavros, and four actors with an unbelievably unlimited amount of energy join forces to unleash a tiny, controlled explosion of bizarre fantasy.

What do you need to know about "Kali-Kantzar and Co."? Being surprised is such a large part of the fun, I almost don’t want to describe too much of the plot. Let’s just say this: The financial crisis is looming large, times are desperate, and a goblin – kalinkantzaroi – family has left their home underground on a hunt for their long lost son. They find themselves in an empty theater… well, almost empty. There’s a security guard on his nightly rounds who is in for a bit of a surprise (a bit of a reference to a film featuring a kalinkantzaroi-like American actor).

Strong vision and a lucky hand

And the long lost son? Well, duh! He’s…. Jim Carrey.

Yes.

Jim Carrey.

That Jim Carrey.

According to the creative team behind "KaliKantzroí and Co.", he’s the epitome of a modern day kalikantzaro.

It’s surprisingly great material for a musical. The Cypriot creative team didn’t have the money or the time to create Cyprus’ take on a Broadway extravaganza, but they sure did their damnedest with what they had, and it was obvious that they drained every possible drop of creativity out of their collective imaginations. The entire show was one cohesive vision. Everyone was onboard with the storyline, the whats, the whys, the hows. While the collaboration with the Hungarian theater might not have worked out, the collaboration between the Cypriot theater makers seems to have worked out just fine.

Their strong vision for the story they wanted to tell carried through every aspect of the production. This performance knew exactly what it was doing and why, and it almost never stumbled. It did get a bit overly sentimental towards the end, and it could definitely be tightened up a bit; there are a lot of songs for such a short musical, and the tempo starts to drag towards the end.

The power of imagination

No one can accuse the Cypriots of not doing their research: the jazz dancing, the puppets,  the physical humor,  the romance, even the politics  – it was all there, but in a way that was fresh and exciting. This was no cheap rip-off, and it very easily could have been.

Ultimately, though, "Kali-Kantzar and Co." wants to remind us about the power of the imagination. It may be clichéd, but it’s still valid and all too necessary point that the constant deluge of iPads, iPhones, iPods and all manner of technological gadgets we amuse ourselves with these days might be having a seriously detrimental effect on our ability to unleash our creativity, act a little childish, to simply let go and play. The kalinkantzaroi are an ancient tradition in Cyprus; they’re your dark side, your vulgar side, that aspect of your personality that secretly adores poop jokes and curse words. It’s a joy to see such a simple, universal message come through a production that could’ve easily been inaccessible to a non-Cypriot audience (which would have made the audience rather small).

Perhaps it’s because I grew up with traditional American musicals. The musical as an artistic, theatrical form almost makes more intrinsic sense to me than the standard German "Sprechtheater" I come across constantly in Berlin. This doesn’t mean, however, that I love every musical I see just because it’s a musical. Terrible musicals are terrible. But a good musical…I love me a good old-fashioned musical. I look forward to the future of "Kali-Kantzaroi and Co." – I think it’ll be a bright one.

 

Der Blog ist ein Kooperationsprojekt von nachtkritik.de und der European Theatre Convention im Rahmen des Young Europe Festivals. Seine Inhalte sind nicht Teil des redaktionellen Kontents von nachtkritik.de: Impressum.

 
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