Theater wanderer goes West

A wanderer of the world for most of his life, a wanderer of the arts of theater and cinema and a wanderer of the Athens stage, on which he is presenting magical moments before moving on to his next destination, Dimitris Mavrikios is now at the Theatro Technis’s legendary Basement Theater. Invited by Giorgos Lazanis to introduce a new generation of theatergoers to timeless plays, Mavrikios is staging Sam Shepard’s «True West.» Are your wanderings, after all, your most defining experience? Geographically and until the age of 30, at least, yes, my life was replete with wanderings. I was born in Cairo – my parents were also born in Egypt – and lived there until the 1957 Suez crisis. I was 9 when we came to Greece. We lived in Athens first and then in Karditsa, where my father worked as an engineer on the Plastira Lake Dam. It was a rather shocking transplantation. After the cosmopolitan lifestyle of Egypt, I had to face the very rural environment of Greece’s countryside… We moved again soon after, and again – my father’s work even took us to Asia. You went on to study in Italy, is that right? First I went to Paris when I was 18, where I studied classical literature and theater, and then Rome, to the state film school, where I was taught by Roberto Rossellini and where I made by first feature-length film. I lived in Rome until the day the [Greek] junta fell. That is when I decided to move back to Greece, even though my parents had settled in Paris in the meantime. I chose Greece. I chose which country I would call home. Why Greece? Good question! I was not very comfortable with the whole «citizen of the world» thing. Even thinking in many different languages is pretty harrowing. As a child, I would speak Greek and Italian (because of my Italian grandfather) at home, French at school and Arabic on the street with the kids in my neighborhood. Let’s discuss the theater we are in right now, the Theatro Technis Basement, and especially this room, where once upon a time, we would have met with Karolos Koun. I was in awe when I came down here. The place that nurtured me theatrically as a child is now my place of work! I owe this to Giorgos Lazanis. What drew you to Shepard’s «True West»? The same thing that drew me to «Six Characters in Search of an Author» or «The Glass Menagerie» – that the artistic process itself is the theme of the play. In this play you have two basic characters, two brothers who are very different from one another and who come into conflict through writing. I am always interested in what makes our work a life experience. What is the play’s basic plot? Two brothers, one around 30 years old (played by Yiannis Kotsifas) and the other around 40 (Nikos Karathanos), meet in the American Midwest at the home of their mother (Vangelio Andreadaki), who has left for Alaska. The younger of the two is an aspiring screenwriter and the elder is a bum, a small-time thief and a rogue, who lives alone in the desert with his dog. He succeeds in wooing the younger’s producer (Yiannis Zavradinos) with a script of his own, and the tables are turned: The thief becomes a screenwriter and the screenwriter a thief. Are you using your trademark combination of cinema and theater in the staging? The writer himself introduces the element of cinema into the play. Hollywood as a target is always present in the dialogue; there are many references to Westerns, and the bum brother’s obsession with certain reminiscences of film are pivotal – they lead him to write his screenplay, even though he can’t even write is own name properly. Cinema is a constant in this play. Will this be emphasized in your performance? Yes, especially in the finale. Throughout the play, Shepard demands that there be realism, extreme realism, and we have respected that. Save in a few moments between scenes, which in a more conservative production would be viewed in darkness, we introduce memory. How do you do that? With the appearance of two boys, fleeting images of the brothers as children… In the finale though, the last scene of the fratricide, Shepard asks that the miserable home of the mother, the kitchen wrecked by the two brothers, be portrayed as a desert landscape at night, bathed in moonlight. He leaves it open basically. I don’t think it would be enough to just throw a blue light onto the stage and play the sound of a howling coyote. The realism Shepard is asking for is the realism of cinema. How did you achieve it? The play starts on a screen, two-dimensionally, and gradually, imaginations allowing, the stage melts into the image, becomes three-dimensional and sets the pace of the play and the action in motion. In the end, it becomes cinema again. How important was the set and music in achieving this effect? Pivotal. Under the artistic direction of costume designer Giorgos Ziakas, Dimitris Polychroniadis made a set, with the help of lighting designer Lefteris Pavlopoulos, that allows the passage from screen to stage, and vice versa. The music for the performance, by Stathis Skouropoulos, is influenced by the legends of the Western film genre, which both we and the boys watched as children… You started off in your career as a film director, but haven’t made a film in several years. Why? It’s been since 1990. The most important thing for me is to be interested in the story you are going to tell. It doesn’t matter whether you say it through film or theater. Do you prefer theater or was the reason you stopped doing films financial? Financial reasons always play a role and they do affect your willingness to embark on a lengthy project in film, especially when you enjoy working in the theater just as much. Actually, I might even say that theater is better in many ways, such as the relationship you can build with actors. Generally though, I don’t have a preference of one over the other. In the early years, the balance shifted in favor of cinema, now it’s in favor of theater… It doesn’t matter, as long as it stays strong. Theatro Technis Basement Theater, 5 Pesmatzoglou, tel 210.322.8706.