From Moscow to New York via Shakespeare

David Mamet is an important writer for Dimitris Tarlow. This is not simply because he is one of his favorite writers (he has translated his plays and knows Mamet’s buttons) but also because it was with Mamet’s American Buffalo that he won a place in the world of the theater, after having worked exclusively in television. Famous trio meet again This play led Dimitris Tarlow to the Embros theater company and Tassos Bantis (we discovered him in a television serial of the day) which resulted in a revelatory production with Dimitris Kataleifos, Giorgos Kentros and Tarlow himself. This famous trio is about to meet again in Glengarry Glen Ross, another play by Mamet to be directed by Stathis Livathinos, one of theater’s rising stars. And if comparisons are inevitable, he is categorical. To live with memories is the death of the theater. It’s as though you are an old man isolated in a cave and you keep saying, ‘Weren’t they great years when we played at the Vouvalo…’ The renovated Poreia Theater will be transformed for the needs of the play in which a group of real estate agents find that poor business forces them into holding a sort of competition. At the end of the month, the first will have won a Cadillac, the second a set of knives and the next two dismissal from their jobs. One of the best postwar plays – it was made into a movie with Al Pacino and Jack Lemmon – it sums up, as Tarlow says, the fate of Western man at the end of the 20th century. He considers it to be a tragedy by a master of the one-liner. It’s set in the era of Reagan and Thatcher in Britain, in a difficult economic climate where people are losing their jobs. All want to survive and so there begins a race to sell. And if the concept of the American salesman who travels in order to survive seems somewhat distant to us, just consider how many people have rung our doorbells in the past few years and how many telephone sales people have called us. This play is also about the telephone, as the heroes work over the telephone making appointments and taking the business cards of potential customers. The hero, whom Tarlow plays, is the character on whom the fate of all the others depends. In one sense I am their tormentor. The office manager, an unpleasant character. But these types also have some extremely difficult moments. Perhaps Mamet would laugh if he knew that this role was being played by the producer. Actor, translator and producer, the last label troubles him but he clarifies: I see myself as an actor and less as a producer. He admits that he has been lucky. Financially, I have been able to do things that others only dream about. But it’s not been set up to satisfy a fetish of mine, to be a lead actor. He sees Poreia and the theater company Dolichos, which he set up in 1998, as a breeding ground. We make a great effort to produce actors who share a common code. This is what ties him to Stathis Livathinos, as well as friendship and mutual respect. I believe that the theater in Greece can change. We are the last European country not to have a theater academy. Stathis can do a lot, such as he is doing now at the National Theater. Theatrical education When you talk with Dimitris Tarlow about the problems of the Greek theater, he does not focus on the increasing number of productions or the theaters that are sprouting like mushrooms. What we suffer from is the lack of a theatrical education. We know a lot, but the theater requires self-sacrifice. We’re ready for the sacrifices but we need to separate theater from television. In any case, everyone recognizes a good actor or a good production. And if most productions just make one yawn, he has an explanation for this. There is no method… Ask anyone, they will all answer that they don’t know any technique. They’re just making it up. He himself had the good fortune to go to Russia. I don’t think that only the Russian schools are doing a good job. But I was impressed when I saw the way in which the first-year students at the State Theater Institute in Moscow work. Most professional Greek actors couldn’t do the exercises they do. And he admits that he also found them difficult. But over there they have realized that culture is an investment. I attended a meeting at the House of the Actor with directors, journalists, critics. I realized that the young students were their greatest concern. When one critic said something stupid, they pointed out to him that ‘you should see all the performances, and you’ve only seen half. Don’t just leave to write for your paper, the kids are waiting to speak to you after the performances.’ And he replied, ‘You’re right.’ The problem of good new plays is a general one. We all find ourselves in front of an insurmountable wall. Many of the choices made by theater companies are out of necessity and not their true wishes. And even when their wish is for a tough, modern play, this is a symptom of backwardness and neo-conservatism. I consider these things to be alien to the Greek soul. The plays which attract the public are the ones about emotions. He himself is moved by something living. What does living mean? I like rehearsals, to poke fun at ourselves each day, to improvise, for things not to be expected. Grandfather Karagatsis His relationship with the theater came naturally. My family prodded me in that direction. Both my father and grandmother were painters, I lived in an environment where it was a good thing to be an artist. A whimsical child, I was always playing roles. He liked Karaghiozi, played all the heroes of the shadow puppet theater and went constantly to the shadow puppet master Evgenios Spatharis. I also had some teachers to whom I owe a lot. My American father always spoke to me in Greek. As a child, so that I would learn my mother tongue, they would get me teachers, some of whom were actors. They taught me theatrical improvisation and Shakespearean texts, something which seemed very easy to me, just as the theater must have been. He learned a lot from his grandmother, the painter Niki Karagatsi. Aside from her innate shyness and humility, she had a strong sense of escape through art. The way, for example, in which she drew, was as though it didn’t matter what she was doing, as though it was just a sketch. At the time I didn’t understand that this was what was important. I realized it later. Would-be footballer He never met his grandfather. I was born six years after the death of Michalis Karagatsis. I have, however, read all his wonderful books, as everyone has. I have met him only through his narratives. His name wasn’t a problem; the burden goes from the father to the son or daughter, and the next generation escapes. I never had this ‘your grandfather was Karagatsis’ problem. I was a naughty and lively child; under other conditions I would have become a football player. He became, however, an actor. He finished drama school at the National Theater in 1986. His dreams changed when he met the Embros theater team: Bantis, Oikonomidou, Kataleifos and Kentros. I didn’t know what I wanted until then. New roads opened up for me in 1991 because this was the first time that dedication had been demanded of me. Even if he was only 26 years old. The flesh was young, but the spirit had already begun to suspect that something was not going right. Like when you have a little cough and you realize you’re about to come down with something. I suspect that had I continued like that I would have collapsed into bed ill. He went to New York’s Actors Studio, with a reference from Andreas Voutsinas. In the beginning, the theater for me was an adventure that was worth having. We did things that whet our appetites for even bigger adventures. The dream for the Poreia Theater is to fit a lot of people in, says Tarlow. Actors, directors, playwrights who want to try out their own thing within a particular work method so the audience will know that, coming here, they will see work of a certain standard, open and with variety. Dimitris Tarlow’s artistic career Since 1986, Tarlow has collaborated with the Paidia tou Ethnikou team on the plays Vouli ston Topo Sou and Yparchoun kai Heirotera, as well as with Xenia Kalogeropoulou at the children’s theater, Paidiki Skini, and with her company. He has worked with the Eleftheri Skini in the production Hamilaki sti Hora ton Thavmaton, with Lakis Lazopoulos in Lysistrata, with the State Theater of Northern Greece and Anna Panayiotopoulou’s company. He has also collaborated with Apothiki, Thanasis Papageorgiou’s Stoa, and many others. He appeared with the Organization Morfes in American Buffalo (cooperating on the translation of the play with Tassos Bantis) and in 1998 founded the Dolichos company, the first production of which was his own translation of Ktinos sto Fengari at the Apo Michanis Theater. One of his most-discussed productions was Frenapati, restaged last year at the Poreia Theater. For the camera, he has acted in Efthtymios Hadzis’s cinematic production Triada and also many television serials, including I Zoi tou Attik (The Life of Attik), Mikres Angelies (Small Ads), Anatolikos Anemos (East Wind) and Horika Ydata (Village Waters).

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