‘Living a life of images, not reality’

Actor Giorgos Michalakopoulos seems pleased with life as he sits in his living room surrounded by his daughter’s paintings and facing a view of a park; and so he ought to be. He has acted the leading roles in numerous plays of the Greek and foreign repertory. Now he faces a new challenge, playing Willy in Arthur Miller’s landmark play «Death of a Salesman.» The fact that this is one of the most important American plays ever written, says Michalakopoulos, was only one reason why he chose to do it; the other is that he thinks it reflects Greek reality today, despite the fact that it describes America 50 years ago. Life insurance companies, the friction in a competitive family, the norms of a society «which makes you work because you believe you will be a success and makes you believe you will achieve the dream. In the end, of course, you fall flat on your face. Man’s misbegotten dreams, the eternal mother figure in the play – the family’s shock absorber – the hero’s realization of his own insignificance. Aren’t all these being experienced in Greek society, as are the dead ends young people are faced with?» Is Greece today turning into America? What is a society as competitive as ours? Consumer-oriented, full of dead ends and mistaken dreams. You have played many enviable roles. What makes this one special? The fact that other than technique, the actor needs to have experience of life. It cannot be played by someone younger. The actor has to have shared some of the hero’s experiences. It also makes you confront your own weaknesses, whoever you are and wherever you are. Don’t you find the hopelessness reflected in the play depressing when you play it every night? On the contrary, it hides a sense of liberation for all. It is like getting up from a psychoanalyst’s couch and feeling a weight has been lifted from your shoulders. Willy believes that if he works hard and is good, he will stand out. Do good people in our world succeed in standing out or just surviving? It is not true that you stand out. And it is not true because in this day and age you have to abide by certain restrictions placed by the system. If you are dynamic and try to take advantage of that, you fail. You have to submit to the orders being given from the core, or you’ll never come out on the other side. Why do you think young people today feel their efforts are not recognized – that only the mediocre go forward? Did your generation, during the dictatorship, feel that way? That was also the case back then, but the amount of information we had was much less. Today’s citizens are much better informed than we were. Back then, people would be getting executed and we were somewhere dancing the rumba and singing. We were not aware. Only the families facing the problem knew what was going on. Everyone else may not have agreed on what was happening necessarily, but they accepted the story the way it was told to them. It’s not like that today. It’s more painful because you can see it happening. You were, however, sensitive to public activism. Of course, but I am not talking about the groups of people who were in the game, I am talking about the ones who were outside it. Today, no one is on the outside. The only people who knew what was going on were those who belonged to one side or another; the rest were like they were living somewhere else. Today there is no «I’m not part of it,» it’s «I wish I wasn’t part of it.» That’s a lot worse. Why do you think Greeks are so preoccupied with having a good time? The constant repetition from television and radio of «a good time,» a specific model of a good time, worries you because you know you will not have a good time. In the past, people used to say, «As long as you have your health,» meaning that if you were healthy that was a good time in itself. Today it sound old-fashioned. Having a good time today means having what you want, now. How would you describe today’s Greeks? Their lives are a game. Morning, noon and night they live to buy a better cell phone, the best TV, the best computer. They have entered a life of debt, borrowing without being able to pay back and pushing time which will, with mathematical precision, lead them to an impasse. Does this aloofness seem to be permeating theater? Music is at a standstill, theater is not. People don’t understand what they’re writing in music or how. The preoccupation with putting on an impressive show and technology have castrated songwriters. We are living a life of images, not reality. Has the public also changed? The public is in a state of confusion and I can’t blame them. This is a time of confusion. I see relatively uneducated people taking an interest in serious theater and scientists or so-called intellectuals running to low-quality, easily digestible shows. Even some critics prefer to write about easy subjects rather than get to the marrow of things. Of course, societies always move forward with the few. How does it feel to be directed by your daughter? Ioanna has very solid studies. She graduated from university with a degree in psychology and studied theater both in America and here… She has been an assistant director in big performances for 10 years. She has worked with many people. I watched the way she worked. I, on the other hand, had a 140-page part to play and I couldn’t deal with directing as well. It was need that drove me to give her the second director’s role. «Death of a Salesman,» with Giorgos Michalakopoulos, Ersi Malikenzou and Alkis Kourkoulos, at the Vafeio Theater, 3 Profiti Daniil, Kerameikos, tel 210.346.7735.

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