Monday, October 6, 2008

Yannis Simonides as Socrates in Plato's Apology

Much to the delight of a room full of Grecophiles, Yannis Simonides delivered his gripping monologue as Socrates in a dramatic performance of Plato’s Apology. Altered to some degree from the original text in order to accommodate the modern actor’s tongue, Simonides retained the spirit of the maverick philosopher’s legal defense for his life against the charges of corrupting the young, not believing in gods, and introducing new gods. Of course, different people read Plato’s work for different reasons, finding different points of emphasis. In this case, the translation focused on the importance of virtue and why one should not fear mortality, but little attention was given to Socrates’ disregard for the legal system or his demonstration of his sharp dialectic process. Simonides played him with much more earnest, but these are simply interpretations of the same piece. The alternate visions and understanding of the piece’s meaning and significance are what make it timeless.
Simonides was a perfect Socrates. Affecting a wide mouthed smile and palsied arms, Simonides dottered around on stage, conveying both the age and mental alacrity. Even better, he captured the humor and humanity of the thinker. Too many people place Socrates on a pedestal, rendering him above human foible. This is erroneous, as anyone who has read the dialogues is aware. Socrates, in the dialogues, is sharp and incisive, yes, but also extremely funny and sometimes silly. Simonides showed the philosopher’s multi-dimensionality, without losing his importance. Even when playing the part of Miletos, Simonides transformed himself into the sneering, self aggrandizing upstart with ease. The gorgeous mask set on the center stage chair exuded the awesomeness of a deity, as though humanism itself were personified and present. I was grateful that the mask was on the chair, rather than on Simonides, largely because so much of what makes the monologue work is Simonides’ expressive face. Furthermore, the mask itself was reminiscent of the Greek dramas, in which actors all wore masks that were frozen in distinct expressions.
Following the performance, Simonides allowed the audience to ask him questions, though they mostly focused on his work as an actor and performer. Yannis Simonides is a Yale Drama school trained actor and writer, and an Emmy award winning documentary producer. His credits are many, including a position as the former chair of the acting program at NYU.
Overall, this was a special experience and it is not to be missed as it travels the world.

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