NEW YORK— On May 26, multitalented Greek actor Panos Vlahos made his New York, and US, debut in Mistero Buffo a play by Dario Fo based on the mystery plays of the Middle Ages. The play, presented by the Orpheus Foundation for Greek Music and the Arts, and directed by Lyto Triantafylidou, runs in an exclusive three-day engagement through Sunday at the Balcony Theater of West-Park Presbyterian Church, 165 West 86th St., on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
The play is a remarkable tour de force for the gifted Vlahos who demonstrates extraordinary range as a performer as he portrays several dramatically different characters throughout the play. He plays a fool, a peasant, a player, a soldier, various villagers, the Pope, and Jesus Christ in a non-stop performance. With roots in the medieval jugglers and commedia dell’ arte, the protagonist of the play is the fool in the traditional sense, challenging the way we look at the world and subverting the political status quo. The play is at once historical and modern, and like the medieval mystery plays, it revels in its anachronism, becoming eternal in the sense of being out of time and relevant to audiences of any time period.
Mistero Buffo was originally written in 1969 and in the spirit of the time, it is a politically-charged play, commenting on society and on the rigid social structure and institutions that restrict the freedom of the common man. The oppressive powers that be include the wealthy elites and the religious establishment that crush hope for the downtrodden. The play cuts through the surface, however, bringing the audience back to a more visceral experience of religion, the witnessing of miracles, the living proof of God’s presence among us. As director Triantafylidou said, “Our Mistero Buffo is a social interpretation of the Passion Stories from the point of view of the Guillare, a clown who explores and reconstructs the meaning of miracles.” The play opens with the invitation of the protagonist to come and see him “turn words into razorblades.” Guillare welcomes the audience and breaks the forth wall repeatedly, interacting with the audience, offering them wine and chocolates which he serves to the bemused audience members who often don’t know how to react to this gregarious figure. The uncertainty is part of the charm of the play. He is only joking after all, isn’t he?
The feeling of dislocation works well in the space of the church/theater, drawing on the Brechtian alienation effect, or as it now more commonly known, the estrangement effect. The audience knows this is a play, we see the lights and the metal bars that make up the set, but the interaction between audience and actor is very real. Vlahos is drenched in sweat from the effort of portraying so many characters, and he is so skilled at his work that we believe there are dozens of people there on the stage, some of them hilarious, others poignant, but all distinctly human. The humanity is the key to this play and to the medieval mystery plays which helped the people of that time period engage with their religion in a more vital way and on a more human level than they could experience in the often intimidating setting of a medieval cathedral. The play and the dynamic performance of Panos Vlahos, expecially, are not to be missed. More information on the play is available online.
Panos Vlahos is a Greek singer, songwriter, and musician with extensive theater, feature film and TV credits to his name. He studied acting at the New Hellenic Theater under George Armenis. Most recently he appeared in National Theater of Greece productions at the Ancient Theater of Epidaurus. Children’s Games, his first album was released in 2014.
Lyto Triantafylidou is a theater director based in New York, and co-founder of Second Circle Theater Company. Interested in developing theater to create a new dialogue with reality, she researches and revitalizes under-represented works from world theater, adapts classical works, and collaborates with playwrights on new plays. Her work has been presented in New York and Greece.