Versatile Mirka Papaconstantinou drops comedy, goes for monologue

It’s a rare phenomenon but it does happen: A widely loved actress with a string of successes in comedy on the large and small screen, and a long career at the head of a variety of theater groups, wakes up one morning and just says, «Enough!» «I did more than pull the plug, I even pulled the fuse,» says Mirka Papaconstantinou. Nothing particular happened to send her to her decision, she just couldn’t take it anymore, she says. «And it wasn’t at all easy. It was a huge risk because I am on very shaky ground financially as it is. But I really couldn’t stand any more of it. And I don’t regret it one single bit!» Since pulling out of the more glamorous world of television and film some four years ago, Papaconstantinou has played on stage just in the title role in «Shirley Valentine» but now she is on stage again at the Argo Theater in a very serious role indeed – Ismene in Yiannis Ritsos’s celebrated monologue. Playing Ismene at this point must mean something. I never really coveted any specific role. I was always more interested in how I could go about achieving something in the process. I wasn’t interested in the «type» of play. The same applies here. It was Nikos Karageorgou’s suggestion [the play’s director] that I play Ismene. He convinced me even though I reacted badly to the play at first. Why is that? I had read it many years ago and liked it a lot. But, when I read it again, at this point in my life, I felt a sense of aversion because it compelled me to face up to a lot of my own issues; things one doesn’t want to come to terms with – existential crises, relationships, fear, death… What exactly is the play about? Ismene is a woman who chose to live, in contrast to [her sister] Antigone who chose to die. She wanted to taste love, to live. Now she is nothing but a tired soul, everything around her is collapsing but she feels good because, she says, she lived. Gradually though, we discover that she is not that happy. After all, she lives with the terror of Antigone’s memory. She says: «I don’t understand why you made her a heroine. Because she chose to die?» When she thinks of Antigone, Ismene invariably recalls images of her own love life, she speaks to a dead man, she tries to hang on to the love she used to have. She is haunted by her fear of Antigone – that is why the show features the dead woman’s ghost (played by Irene Rapti). Just before the end of the play, Ritsos has inserted a scene between the two sisters from Sophocles’ «Antigone» and sends the heroine to commit suicide. How come you haven’t done any theater this past year? I haven’t played in two to three years, not since «Shirley Valentine.» Something just happened, an abrupt stop, about four years ago… Maybe it took too long for it to happen but it did, I just said, «Enough!» Just like that. I had even started working on something for the winter season and I called the man funding it and said, «I can’t!» He said, «Are you completely mad?» Just as many others did. It seems though, that this had been bothering me for a long time. I didn’t regret it, though it did entail a lot of risks. A while later, I did «Shirley Valentine» with Nikos [Karageorgou]. It was a lovely journey with lovely results but I no longer want to do things that I am not very interested in, irrespectively of what «type» of role it is. How do you explain your reaction? I think it happened because there was something eating away inside me for a long time and I wanted to take a break, to pull myself together again. These things don’t always make perfect sense. Would you say that you made certain poor choices in your career and that now you are paying for them? The mistakes were all mine, just like the right choices were. The real punishment comes when you’re on stage, and not from the audience of critics, but from yourself. What do you blame yourself for? I handled certain things badly. I said «yes» when I should have said «no» and said «no» when I should have said «yes»… But nobody sets out to make a flop. And I don’t believe what they say about learning from your failures. Failure just corners you and makes you say, «Whoa!» That I will agree to, but I won’t agree that you enjoy failures as a learning experience. I am not at all pleased about the flops I have made. How would you sum up the 30 years you have had in acting? I won’t sum up, that’s like putting in a full stop. I’m not trying to shirk anything either. I wanted to act and that’s what I do, so there is a sense of great satisfaction. Not just for specific roles or plays – just for moments. And magical moments they were too, when I felt as though there was a thin golden thread tying me to the audience. Are you comfortable playing on television? Not always, that’s why I try to stay away from it every once in a while. I haven’t done very much over the past few years. But I have done some things that are very bad, and others that are very good. Argo Theater, 15 Elefsinion, Metaxourgeio Metro Station, tel 210.5201684-5.

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