Olympia Dukakis to Perform at the Cameri in Tel Aviv
Written by: Ayelet Dekel
Olympia Dukakis is visiting Israel for the first time to perform a concert reading of Rose at the Cameri Theatre in Tel Aviv. The star was in full form at a press conference held this morning at the Sheraton Hotel, with Cameri General Director Noam Semel and Artistic Director Omri Nitzan. Eyes full of life, warmth and fire, even in conversation her expressive features reveal the talents of an actress whose career spans stage and screen (including an Academy Award for Moonstruck), and an impressive record offstage as director, producer, teacher and activist, including an almost twenty year stint as the Producing Artistic Director of the Whole Theatre she helped found in New Jersey.
She doesn’t shy away from conflict or her hide feelings in euphemisms, and she is no stranger to hard work. Asked whether she misses running her own theatre, she responded with vigor, “Do you miss a stick in your eye?”
Yet her role in Rose is quite demanding, physically and emotionally: a one-woman show performed while sitting on a bench for the entire duration of the play (about an hour and a half). Dukakis said she was initially attracted to the role because “it seemed impossible to do.” Written by Martin Sherman and directed by Nancy Meckler with lighting design by Ted Sullivan, the play will be performed in English with Hebrew translation by Nava Semel (in surtitles). Rose is an elderly Jewish woman, sitting Shiva in Miami Beach, reflecting on the past in an attempt to come to terms with the present.
Born in the U.S. to Greek immigrant parents, Dukakis grew up in Lowell, Massachusetts where there were “Greeks” and “Americans,” saying, “I felt I needed to distance myself from both.” Describing the American cultural atmosphere as one where there are different groups of Greek-Americans, Italian-Americans – always with a hyphen, Dukakis said, “I often felt that I lived right in that hyphen and I think that resonated for me in the play. There is a freedom that it [not belonging] allots you…yes, there is a joy in being free.”
Dukakis has been cast as a Jewish character in the past, and has also played many Italian characters, most notably as Rose Castorini, Cher’s mother, in Moonstruck. The reason is simple, Dukakis explains, “I wouldn’t change my name.” As a result, she was “branded as an ethnic actress. I couldn’t even get auditions [for non-ethnic roles]…that’s why I started a theatre.”
She enjoys her work in films for intimacy it affords, as the camera comes in close to focus on every nuance of expression, but of her work in theatre she says, “If I didn’t do plays I wouldn’t know who I am.” Drawn to the human aspect of theatre work, Dukakis values the relationships one can establish with fellow actors while working on a play, the relationship with the audience, and with herself: “it’s always a revelation every night to see where I’m at.” Dukakis said she is “very interested to hear how this [Israeli] audience will respond. I’m curious to see how the humor will travel. Humor is always the hardest thing to travel from one culture to another.”
Martin Sherman had Dukakis in mind for the part of Rose; the two had attended Boston University at the same time, and even performed together once. “I was Clytemnestra,” recalls Dukakis, “and Martin was in the chorus. I don’t remember him at all…of course I felt really thrilled that he thought of me.”
The play touches on several painful and sensitive topics, Rose is a Holocaust survivor and as Dukakis describes, “she is in turmoil and chooses to open up…she doesn’t know how to resolve this conflict that has emerged in her life.” Rose is sitting shiva on a bench in Miami Beach, mourning the life of a Palestinian girl who has been shot. Her choice to mourn involves not only a conflict with her son in the play, but some audiences have found the play controversial. Dukakis said that there were times when the play was first performed (over a decade ago) when “people would yell – that’s anti-Semitic.” Yet she feels that the play “puts a human face on that conflict” which makes it easier to connect, and finds that audiences today are more “aware than they were ten years ago…trying to understand.”
As for her own connection to the play, Dukakis recalls her initial difficulty getting into it, and director Meckler’s insistence on finding the key. The two worked for an hour and a half of improvisation before Dukakis found her own way to sit on that bench. Dukakis said, “I sat on that bench for my mother, and all the Greek women…the emotional weight of the piece is extraordinary.”
Rose will be performed at the Cameri Theatre in Tel Aviv on Monday, April 16 at 20:30; Tuesday, April 17th at 16:30 and 20:30. Tickets are 300/260 NIS. To order, call: 03-6060960.