But the journey that “Eros” has taken, with its series of monologues honoring the God of love against the backdrop of an uncertain world, became a moment of art imitating life.
“They escaped the war, and their journey became a physical testimony to what we were portraying onstage,” Ms. Evangelatos said. “I’ve never experienced anything quite like this.”
The experience, she said, felt like it mirrored how tenuous life must have been for ancient Athenians as they grappled with the ever-present threat of war and the risk of losing their democracy.
“Humanity always needs to remember the possibility of war to appreciate peace, because the structure was there for the different tribes of Athens to coexist harmoniously, but it was very brief,” Ms. Papakonstantinou said. “Sophocles’ plays, for example, are all about the fear of civil war. The threat was always there, even though it was a democracy. Not unlike what the Ukrainians are experiencing now.”
Ms. Papakonstantinou said that despite the parallels between the present day and ancient Greek democracy, what’s changed is the way it is expressed. Ancient Greek theaters were physical spaces where debate and activism were nurtured, but the democratic process has shifted in the past two decades, she said.
“We have real freedoms in the West, but many of our liberties now exclude the physicality of the community because we are now all living inside the internet,” she said. “We no longer gather in physical squares. We use the word democracy, but what is it? It’s a meta democracy.”
But in whatever way democracy evolved over the centuries, its theater roots some 2,500 years ago show the full spectrum of how it — and theater — continues to influence the world.
“Playwrights like Aristophanes were there to make fun of the rulers but also to make our hearts bleed about the tragedy of humankind,” Ms. Evangelatos said. “They were criticizing people and shaping human thought at the same time. That is democracy at work.”