Review: THE CENCI FAMILY at The Tank

A new play by Ioli Andreadi and Aris Asproulis premiers in stunning fashion at The Tank Theater.

By: May. 20, 2024
Review: THE CENCI FAMILY at The Tank
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Review: THE CENCI FAMILY at The Tank

Rape, murder, incest, parricide, war against the Pope!   A play that was not considered stageable in its day due to its radical themes arrived in New York in a stunning new production.

Greek playwrights, Ioli Andreadi and Aris Asproulis presented a fresh take on the classic legend, which has inspired dozens of versions over the centuries by no less than, Alexander Dumas, Stendahl, Percy Shelley, an opera by Ginastera, and even a drama by Alfred Nobel (better know for the famous prizes in his name)!

This version was inspired by Antonin Artaud (known most famously for his creation of the Theater of Cruelty) and was directed by co-playwright, Andreadi, who has brought her fifth production to the Tank Theater in the last 5 years.  (2019: “Euripides ION”, 2022: “Filiki Eteria. The Brotherhood behind the Revolution”, 2023: “Artaud / Van Gogh” andReview: THE CENCI FAMILY at The Tank “Bone”.  The Tank Theater is one of the few companies left in New York that can be counted on for pushing the envelope, and this production was no exception.

New York City hosts over a hundred dramatic performances of one form or another every single day, so it is no mean feat to produce a true stand-out, uniquely engaging production.  This play is just such a production. 

The play chronicles a legendary event from the 16th century, set in the present, in a mostly flat, frame-like staging, trapping the actors, like pinned butterflies in a pressing, in a wide but narrow, depthless stage.  The staging demands that all the action is “in-your-face,” but compressed at the same time.   The creative design work, set design, makeup, costume, and lighting, beautifully render a cruel and uneven world that’s held together through force of will.

As the lights come up, we hear the strains of Prokofiev’s “Dance of the Knights” from his ballet, “Romeo and Juliet”  (R&J is from the same time period, more or less, but is a story with decidedly “Veronese” ties).   The story, based on a true incident, concerns one of Rome’s wealthiest noblemen, Count Francesco Cenci, who is informed that he is about to be implicated in a murder.  The Pope (the law of 16th century Rome) sends an emissary, Cardinal Camillo to inform the count that his role in the murder can be quietly whitewashed, if the count is willing to turn over one-third of his property to the Church.  Thus begins a slow descent into madness and violence.

Review: THE CENCI FAMILY at The Tank
Thanos Koniaris

Cenci, not the sort of man used to being shaken down, even by the Pope, agrees to the Pope’s offer, but in exchange for surrendering such a large portion of his fortune, he negotiates absolution for several more, yet to be committed sins.  Thanos Koniaris was pure evil as the count, and his movements conjured up images of malevolence personified.  Konstantina Takalou handled countless roles deftly and seamlessly, with a seemingly never-ending supply of pathos-filled facial expressions.

The intrigue plays out in gripping fashion as the actors react in highly stylized movements, while never making eye contact.   According to director Andreadi, these movements, resulting, variously, in poses that range from graceful and stately, to ferocious and lecherous, were developed in concert with the actors themselves.  The process began with yoga and developed into dramatic movement, finally blocking the story.    The movements themselves, as well as the postures and stances they result in, become a second language within the play, conveying as much information as the text itself.  

Andreadi has arrived at a uniquely original system that is, at once, beautiful and illuminating.  The style is in many ways reminiscent of Robert Wilson’s, but not nearly as concrete.   Where Wilson’s style frequently gets in the way of the storytelling, Andreadi’s style becomes part of the storytelling, smoothly and organically.  In essence, the vehicle for conveying the story becomes an intrinsic part of the overall gestalt of the play.

Review: THE CENCI FAMILY at The Tank
Konstantina Takalou

The system is put to good use as the story gets more and more lurid.  The crimes the count has in mind are ghastly and gruesome – he plans the grisly murder of his two sons, and the sexual violation of his young daughter Beatrice.

Beatrice slowly becomes the play’s focal point as she seems to be the only person in Rome willing to stand up to her father’s horrendous acts.  In the role of Beatrice, Ifigeneia Karamitrou delivered a simply riveting performance as the courageous daughter who refuses to be a victim.  Interestingly, more so than the other players, she employed exceptionally expressive eyes and eye movements to convey Beatrice’s tortured existence, then her bold determination to dispatch her father for his despicable crimes.   The story’s toxic masculine violence is funneled into the play’s climactic moment, which is staged with pitch-perfect suspense, then released, as the almost inevitable femicide unfolds.

Review: THE CENCI FAMILY at The Tank
Ifigeneia Karamitrou 

It’s worth mentioning that Artaud believed that the focus of modern theatre had become too narrow, concentrating primarily on “the psychological suffering of individuals or the societal struggles of specific groups of people”.   He wished to dig deeper into the subconscious, which he considered was frequently the source of most people's mistreatment of one another.  The nature of Andreadi’s direction allowed for just such analysis.   Just as Artaud considered the actual play text to be a kind of barrier to “meaning,” and advocated rather for performances created from a unique language, halfway between thought and gesture, Ms. Andreadi’s “language” brings the story to life in more vivid fashion than text alone could hope to do.  The play’s layers within layers, each featuring tiny dream-like gaps in narrative and form, engage the audience and invite them to make the connections themselves – creating a completely integrated audience experience. 

Review: THE CENCI FAMILY at The Tank
Director, Ioli Andreadi

Finally, to pull off such a feat, one must have a first-rate cast, and The Cenci Family had that in spades.   The extraordinary cast of three portrayed countless characters seamlessly, and effortlessly.  Bravos across the board!

The play was originally staged in Athens, Greece, as part of the Michael Cacoyannis Foundation’s 2015-2016 theater season, and after the success of “The Artaud Diptych” project last spring, the Tank made the decision to continue the relationship with “THE CENCI FAMILY”, and we are the beneficiaries of the collaboration.

This is cutting Edge Theater of the highest order.  Dangerous and daring, it’s more than simply Avant Guard, it is timeless and contemporary at the same time – the kind of theater that makes you sit up on the edge of your seat and pay attention.

Here’s hoping the collaboration with the Tank continues and has many more such fruitful productions.   

Director Ioli Andreadi  /  Playwrights: Ioli Andreadi & Aris Asproulis

Set & Costume Design: Dimitra Liakoura /  Photographer: Stavros Habakis

Video Trailer & Video Stills: Michael Mavromoustakos

Production Manager: Orestis Tatsis / Production Company: Reon

"The Cenci Family" performances at The Tank theater in New York were made possible by the kind sponsorship of the "George and Victoria Karelias Foundation."  

Peter Danish


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