Veteran actress turns to directing

She never really wanted to become a director, to go over to the other side. For the past 40 years, Betty Arvaniti has always played on the actors’ side. But when she read the play by Romuald Karmakar, «The Deathmaker» (translated into Greek as «The Art of Mr Haarmann»), she began to change her mind. «The Deathmaker,» written in 1995 and shocking German society with its portrayal of at least 17 murders, is by no means an innocuous play. Arvaniti defines it as extreme, but she will not say any more about the production that premiered earlier this week at the Kefallinias Street Theater, starring Christos Stergioglou, Yiannis Rozakis and Akis Lyris. The story of the play is based on that of the serial killer Fritz Haarmann, dubbed the Butcher of Hannover, who committed at least 24 murders and possibly many more in the 1920s. Haarmann’s victims were young male vagrants and male prostitutes who hung around railway stations whom Haarmann would lure back to his apartment and kill by biting through their throats. Haarmann was eventually caught and executed. The play, however, is not a presentation of his heinous crimes; rather it is a re-enactment of a series of question-and-answer sessions between Haarmann and Professor Ernst Schultze, as part of a psychiatric profile conducted to determine whether Haarmann was fit to stand trial for the murders. «The relationship that forms is the play,» says Arvaniti. «The real transcripts of the interviews have been used to write the play,» she adds. Arvaniti is not looking to tell the story of a crime; she wants to focus on the relationship between the killer, the psychiatrist and a silent stenographer keeping record. The play came into the leading actress’s hands a few years ago when she had already seen the film of the play (a Berlin festival winner that had been screened at the Goethe Institute in Athens). «I was astounded by it,» she admits. «If I could have played in it I would have done so immediately.» Instead, Arvaniti chose to direct it; not without some trepidation, she admits. «This is something completely new,» she says. «I am not certain about anything. I was assisted by the teamwork a great deal, however. I worked like an actor, so what we have is like a play directed by four actors. Actors who direct are very well aware of the problems faced on the stage… When we stumbled somewhere, I immediately knew what the problem was.» The question, however, is whether she would ever do it again. «Never say never,» she answers. «This is a beginning, but the only way I would do it again would be if I saw another play that blew my mind away.» «The Deathmaker,» at the Kefallinias Street Theater (16 Kefallinias, Kypseli, tel 210.883.8727), Thursdays-Saturdays at 9 p.m., Wednesdays and Sundays at 8 p.m. Duration: 90 minutes.