CULTURE

Dukakis comes to Athens stage

Olympia Dukakis became a household name in Greece in 1987, when she played the plethoric Italian mother in «Moonstruck.» The role earned her an Academy Award. A year later her cousin Michael Dukakis ran as the Democratic nominee for US president. (He lost the election to the elder George Bush.) This year, Greeks will have the rare opportunity to see Olympia Dukakis on stage, as she is due in Athens for performances of Martin Sherman’s «Rose,» following a successful run in Broadway and in London. The performance will be staged at the Ilissia Denisi Theater and is organized by the Attica Cultural Society and the Opening Nights film festival within the framework of an ongoing mini-festival that has also featured Tim Robbins. Sherman is already a familiar playwright in Greece, where his «Bent» met with critical acclaim several years ago. «Rose» and «Bent» share a common theme: the horrors of the Holocaust. «Rose» is the monologue of an 80-year-old survivor who tells of her narrow escape and her years of trials and tribulations in the United States. Dukakis spoke to Kathimerini about her role as Rose, pointing out that «Rose is a survivor of the Holocaust, specifically, of the Warsaw ghetto. However, the Holocaust is only one part of the play, one of the heroine’s many experiences. Essentially, this is a story about a person who continues to reinvent herself. She continues to find ways to survive the atrocious events that are taking place around her.» Sherman wrote »Rose» on a commission from the British National Theater on the event of its centennial celebration. «Martin was asked to write a play about the 20th century and its history,» says Dukakis. «Rose is a Jew from Ukraine. She sees her daughter shot in front of her (by a Ukrainian soldier collaborating with the Nazis) and her husband is taken. She survives by hiding in the sewers in Kiev. At the end of the war she’s taken onto a boat going to Israel. That’s where she meets an American sailor and he takes her to the United States.» The trip is the beginning of a long odyssey for a woman who reminisces on her life and all its gruesome experiences. The sailor she is with falls ill and dies and Rose agrees to take his son under her care, but he too passes away. Once in the United States, says Dukakis, Rose goes on tour around the country with a band and ends up in Florida. She gets a job in a hotel and marries the owner. Her Florida stint is in the 1960s and coincides with the huge influx of refugees from Cuba. «There is a flood of history that keeps moving in and altering the circumstances of her life,» says Dukakis of her character. «She continues to find a way to live and survive and move through this.» For the Greek-American actress, who has given memorable performances in films such as «Steel Magnolias» and «Mighty Aphrodite,» the most important point made in «Rose» lies elsewhere. «This is a woman who never feels she belongs anywhere, because she’s had to survive everywhere,» she says. «One of the things she says at the end of the play is that maybe there’s a freedom in not belonging. If you belong, if you feel you’re connected to a society, a group of people, you have an identity that remains constant. But if you don’t, you keep redefining yourself and reinventing yourself and there’s a freedom in that.» Dukakis first performed the play in 1999 in London. Her performance in the Greek capital will be the first time she has ever appeared in the country, though she admits that she has visited Athens twice before and is very excited at the prospect. Though successful in most places where it has been staged, Dukakis admits that in the United States the politics of the play «got a lot of people very heated up. They screamed and yelled at me that I was anti-Semitic,» she says, though she can’t reveal the reasons without betraying the ending of the play. The role of Rose is an especially important one for Dukakis. «I feel a very strong connection with Rose. First of all because of the exile aspect of it because I have been told all my life that I am neither Greek nor American, but something in between. I do understand that not belonging has given me a type of freedom. My children feel like they belong. My father was an Anatolian Greek who had to flee the Turks. His family did not want to come to the United States, but they came because they didn’t feel welcome in Greece either.» Ethnic Tension The feeling of homelessness was especially intense for Dukakis in Lowell, Massachusetts, where she grew up, because ethnic tension, especially against Greeks, ran deep. «All the different ethnicities were fighting each other,» she says. «The Greek women who worked in the mills had to be accompanied by men so they would not be attacked going to work. Each new wave of immigration undercuts the one that is already there and all that tension reflects in the young people of the street. «Everybody fought everybody else. There were Armenians, Irish, French, Germans. By the time I was 12, I was carrying a knife. I never used it but I had to show it. At one point, I got tied to a tree and had my socks stuffed down my throat.» Sexual discrimination, especially in the Greek community, was another tough lesson for Dukakis. «The expectations people had of what we had to care about and be involved in. The boys were allowed more,» she says. «That was a very strong rebellion and I decided I did not want to belong to this Greek community that had these prejudices.» Yet, Dukakis refused to change her name later on in life. Dukakis’s politics are also very much a part of her identity. «We’re in a very difficult time here in the United States. We feel much like we are doing a Beckett play,» she says. «We feel unable to do anything to change things until the next election. You march, you sign things and then you’re blacklisted. Last time I signed something I was blacklisted; people were told not to go see my movies. We have a very patriarchal government and it doesn’t have a sense of being egalitarian. We have to look for the reasons why they are doing things because now we know that there are always other scenarios going on.» Olympia Dukakis has been acting on stage and screen for over 35 years. She has received a plethora of awards, including an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. She also teaches, directs and produces plays and films, as well as being an ardent political activist.