Literary Masterpiece “My Mother’s Sin” Presented for First Time in English on U.S. Tour

In a captivating monologue, Rena Kyprioti performs "My Mother's Sin" at the University of Illinois in Chicago as part of a first-time U.S. tour. (Photo by Anthe Mitrakos)

CHICAGO – Hailing from Thrace, Georgios Vizyinos (1849 – 1896) was a prose writer and poet, a significant figure in Greek literature. This month, a tiny theater group from Greece set out to perform live, what is considered to be the first of its kind English translation of Vizyinos’ masterpiece, “My Mother’s Sin.”

Originally penned in the intricate katharevousa Greek, a feat to translate and express both words and emotion in precision, the presentation of “My Mother’s Sin” truly captivated audiences across the board.

Along with director Danae Roussou, actress Rena Kyprioti and collaborators worked their magic to communicate the true spirit of this classic masterpiece in a brilliant solo act that encompassed several characters, including those of Vizyinos’ mother and himself, both as a boy and an adult.

“Vizyinos wrote this autobiography to tell a personal story. I believe that our choice to perform this piece as a monologue was most appropriate and reflective of the style in which the original story was written,” Roussou said. “In our efforts to translate this piece in the best way we could, we wanted to maintain its original rhythm. We took on this challenge word by word. It was indeed very difficult, but I believe that with our persistence, we successfully kept the original text’s rhythm,” she said.

Kyprioti, channeling the emotions appropriate to each of the characters she portrayed, delivered a monologue without pause, set right in the center of the stage.

“This performance was a risk, and daring, so to speak, because I had never performed for an hour and twenty minutes on stage in English before. It was a great challenge for me, and allowed me to push my limits, broaden my horizons, and reach more people,” Kyprioti said.

The audience followed along, immersed in the story itself, feeling the pain, confusion, remorse and anguish the actress portrayed through Vizyinos’ translated words.

“This story is a sensitive one and one that touched me personally, which is the reason I chose it. This story has changed my life. It talks about forgiveness, reconciliation, and love,” Kyprioti said. “We made a great effort so that through each sentence we could convey the images and feelings that the original piece does,” she said.

The group’s laborious effort to translate the rhythm and authenticity of the literary text to English was greatly acknowledged by the audience, which stood surprised at this accomplishment.

“The performance was captivating. I must admit that I did not expect it to be as strong of a performance as it was, and from what I saw, it also made a great impression on the audience,” said Consul General of Greece in Chicago, Polixeni Petropoulou.

The story recounts Vizyinos’ relationship with his mother, who, having accidentally smothered her newborn girl, can never forgive herself. She carries on in life in hopes of redeeming herself, carrying with her a sin that weighs heavy on her soul, and one she keeps from everyone, eventually revealing it to an adult Vizyinos.

Kyprioti, without pause, meticulously switches from character to character, transforming from child, to mother, to an adult Vizyinos. Augmented with the costume design of Vana Giannoula and music by Nikos Kypourgos that faithfully follows the words’ rhythm, breaking the monologue and immobility of the overall act, Kyprioti’ performance was an undeniable success.

“It was impressive. I was amazed by the difficulty of the play and the talent we saw,” said University of Illinois at Chicago Chancellor Michael Amiridis. “It’s a great opportunity for an institution like ours to bring an international flavor…bring people from the community, but also introduce our community to different perspectives, different ways of doing art and theater,”  he said.

The tour’s sponsors were, among others, the Hellenic Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Greek National Tourism Organization, Greek Consulates around the United States, including the Consulate General of Greece in Chicago, as well as the host universities. The group performed Vizyinos’ “My Mother’s Sin” at Harvard, Yale and Columbia universities and in Tampa, Florida, flying to Chicago for their final performance at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“Up to now, the experience has been overwhelming,” said Eirini Vourlakou, performance production manager. “It’s interesting because in each venue we have performed at, we have a different type of audience,” she said.

Considering the tour’s overall success, the group says they hope to visit the US again in the future.

“This is the first performance of a Greek play in many years here in Chicago…unfortunately, we don’t have visiting performers from Greece. We are grateful for this performance and hope that we will welcome more in the future moving forward,” Petropoulou said.