A woman in the sweep of history

«Being contentious; being willing to have an argument, and at the top of my voice,» Olympia Dukakis told the press yesterday when asked to define her «Greekness.» «That’s the comic answer, she added, «there’s a serious one, too.» But she had to leave for a rehearsal and there was no time to tell the rest. Dukakis is in town for three performances of Martin Sherman’s acclaimed play «Rose,» which has already had successful runs in London and New York. Actor and playwright offered some insights into the performance and the genesis of «Rose,» a monologue by a Jewish woman whose life has been touched by momentous events. The performer and the play seem a perfect fit. Praising the work as «a magnificent piece of writing,» that holds the whole life of a woman together with historical events, Dukakis explained that she likes to do plays «where there is a journey, where the character goes through some kind of transformation.» And «Rose» speaks to a widely shared experience. «One of the reasons that Americans love this play,» she explained, «is that it has a quintessential American experience in it. The experience of immigration is a constant theme in American life. Their problems, their conflicts, the sense of not belonging, and the freedom that comes from it – that means a lot to me as a first generation Greek-American.» Plays may be written quickly but have a long gestation period, said Sherman. This one «came out of years of thinking about being Jewish, about what happened to Jews in the past century, about Israel,» and his «huge disagreement with the policies of the state of Israel,» but the decision to do it as a monologue was sudden. Playing a monologue can be frightening, Dukakis admitted: «When you sit shiva, you take off your shoes, and I didn’t want to give up my shoes; I felt so vulnerable, sitting still on stage.» As time has gone on and it has become less frightening, she still wonders: «Will I be able to hold it, in all its variety and its changes?» A seasoned trouper whose film roles have never kept her off the stage for long, Dukakis recalled her delight at seeing the late Katina Paxinou play Hecuba at Epidaurus with such immediacy that «women around me in the audience were exclaiming ‘Ah, the poor creature,’ as it if it was happening today. That helped me break some old rules about playing the classics.» Final performances tonight and tomorrow at the Ilissia Denisi Theater in Ilissia, 8 Papadiamantopoulou Street, tel 210.721.7317