NEW YORK – Phyto Stratis once again impressed the audience with his powerfully moving performance as Grigoris Afxentiou under the direction of Ioanna Katsarou in The Farewell by Yiannis Ritsos, performed on October 3 at the United Solo Festival at Theater Row in New York and this time in English. Afxentiou’s heroism and his ultimate sacrifice for freedom and his homeland transcend language. The intimate performance space brought the audience directly into the cave with Afxentiou, as portrayed by the talented Stratis who previously performed the show in Greek in May of 2017.
Ritsos wrote this poetic monologue as a tribute to the Battle of Macheras, the outcome of which was the death of Afxentiou, EOKA’s second in command, and the pre-eminent hero of the struggle to rid Cyprus of British colonial rule and unite the island with Greece.
Stratis’ intensity and emotional truth left no dry eye in the theatre especially as he bids farewell to his mother and in those poignant moments when he says, “I keep saying farewell, but I’m still here.” In many ways, Afxentiou is still here, since the struggle for a free Cyprus continues and his spirit lives on in so many who fight for freedom and justice.
Stratis said of the performance, “[It was] an experience I will cherish for as long as I live… Never have I felt so much love and support in one room… So honored we had a sold out show at The United Solo – the world’s largest solo festival.”
He went on to thank director Ioanna Katsarou, and the production team- Theodore Petropoulos, Ioannis Koutalis, Melissa Roth, Ariadne Panagopoulou, and Demetris Michael who also sang (offstage) the opening song in the production.
Among those present were Consul General of Cyprus in New York Alexis Phedonos Vadet and his wife Melina, businessman and philanthropist Nikos Mouyiaris and his wife Carol, Pancyprian Cultural Division President Ismini Michaels, Cyprus-U.S. Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Despina Axiotakis, Hellenic Medical Society of New York Board Member Gus Lambropoulos and his wife Maria Markou, and members of the Pancyprian Choir and the Greek media.
The poem, written in the same month as Afxentiou’s sacrifice, reveals the hero’s ecstatic state of mind during 10 hours under siege in his hideout as he meditates on his life and on his decision to die. It is shocking to consider that during those 10 hours fighting, wounded, in pain, Afxentiou must have considered again and again giving himself up, imagined living and returning to his home and family, and yet he would not be deflected by love of life and instead remained committed to his own death.
The harrowing experience is shared with the audience so skillfully by Stratis as Afxentiou as he struggles with his mortality and the devastating fact that he wants to live. Only 29 years old at the time of his death, Afxentiou was full of life, a born leader of men recognized by EOKA leader General Georgios Grivas who promoted him to second in command. Stratis brings Afxentiou to life vividly and movingly.
Performing in a one-man show, is a difficult task to begin with, but Stratis draws the audience along on his emotional journey with an intensity that never wavers. Throughout the performance, he holds the audience’s attention with precise timing and profound sensitivity.
Under Katsarou’s direction, the performance is well-paced and striking, highlighted by the visuals projected on the wall, music, and sound effects heightening the theatrical experience. The intimate space of the cave with all its suggestion and symbolism from ancient times and onward offers an impressive backdrop for the imagination as well as the important historical truth of Afxentiou’s heroic sacrifice.