‘Three Sisters’ become four in a new play

A century ago in imperial Russia, Chekhov’s celebrated «Three Sisters» dreamed of going to Moscow, getting away from suffocating country life. In the poverty-stricken, mafia-ruled Moscow of today, the dream is America. This is the idea behind a tragicomedy coming to the National Theater’s Kappa Stage, directed by a prominent foreign director who knows only too well life in both the former «Eastern European» countries and the American Dream. Slobodan Unkovski, a neighbor from Skopje, has in the last 20 years divided his life and work between Europe and the USA, while serving as his country’s culture minister from 1996 to 1998. Sweet-natured «Unko» – as his friend, National Theater Director Nikos Kourkoulos and the actors currently collaborating with him call him (including Amalia Moutousi, Christos Parlas, Anna Makrari, Thanassis Efthymiadis, Maria Nafpliotou, Marilita Lambropoulou and Thanos Samaras) – is staging Polish playwright Janusz Glowacki’s play «The Fourth Sister.» What kind of play is «The Fourth Sister»? Out of the 100 plays I have directed so far, I have worked twice on only three of them – and this is one of them. A great play, it opened in Warsaw in 2000 and has since traveled to many countries. It was written by Janusz Glowacki, a highly successful Polish playwright. What is the play about? It’s about this transitional period the world is in today – especially Eastern Europe and Russia. It’s about loss of identity, hope and love, with tragic and comic elements constantly alternating. What defines the play, however, is the dream for a better life. That is why the playwright uses Chekhov’s «Three Sisters» model in an original way. What is the connection between the two plays? It’s not about transposing the myth of Chekhov’s play in today’s Moscow, but rather taking the Chekhov model and giving it an ironic spin. There are three sisters, a brother and a general in both plays; there was an army in Chekhov’s, now there’s the mafia; there was a great desire to go to Moscow, now they desperately want to go to Brooklyn. It’s all the same, yet everything has changed. What’s it like working with Greek actors? My experience began with student directors and actors at the National Theater’s Experimental Workshop, where I taught last year. I’m now working with a group of very good actors. There is no problem on a communication level. I do feel, however, that a director in Greece might find the following to be problem: Actors probably behave as people executing orders, rather than people who join in creatively, by suggesting things. For me, actors have always been on the same level as the directors, co-creators, working on an exchange basis. My kind of actor is the creative actor, one who is willing to take risks. That is the only way to go further. I think that at this level television has destroyed something vital. I watch various television series here and see things which surprise me. On a television set, the actor simply executes what he is asked to do. And then he transfers this to the theater. My approach is very different. That is why, I sense, that the actors at the National feel a gust of fresh air – that is my take anyway. You have served as culture minister. What is it like to have that kind of power? I think that a director’s power suits me better. I accepted to take over the Ministry of Culture because I had criticized it severely. And so in 1996, Prime Minister (Branko) Crvenkovski said to me, «Here, you who are always criticizing, why don’t you take over and show me what you can come up with?» Everybody was against it: my family, my friends, my actors, everyone. Yet my feeling was that I could do my bit for this new democracy – and that’s I how fell right into the trap. In retrospect, since the birth of the new state, out of the five new cultural laws, four are mine. Therefore, I accomplished something. For me personally, it was really important to see the other side of the coin as far as running the country is concerned. The minute my term ended I went running back to the theater. During my tenure as culture minister I understood how important theater was for me. Yes, that period was very instructive.