New York.- Vicki James Yiannias
The October 25 premier of “Dinner at Iocasti’s”, a brilliant comedy written by Akis Dimou and directed by Anastasios Samaras playing through December 8 at the Greek Cultural Center in Astoria, lightened a succession of grey days with a hilarity that still infuses the days a week later.
This effect of the play holds true for the actors, as well. “I find that my actual mood benefits from Stefanos, the character I play…. a little dancing and singing onstage during the weekends is good for the psyche,” says Cyprus-born Alexander Malaos (his 2012 comedy “With Only Two Pieces of Luggage” was off-the-charts funny), who plays Stefanos, Iocasti’s son, “I suppose I’ve covered a nice mix of genres during my Greek Cultural Center tenure. Some plays were more somber, others more thought-provoking, more satirical, more political etc. And others, like “Dinner at Iokasti’s” are just good ol’ lighthearted fun! It’s good to squeeze one of those into your repertoire when you can.”
The play, whose semaphoric set design consists only of a luminescent wall punctuated by a flat screen electronic aquarium showing darting orange fish, a chaise longue with a huge leopard skin throw and a table and chairs, was so funny that one of the audience–not of Greek heritage and not a Greek speaker–thrilled by the top performances of the actors expressed to Mr. Dimou his intention to see the play again. “Dinner at Iocasti’s” is in Greek with English supertitles.
Characters: Christos Alexandris as Iocasta’s dead husband, owner of a T-shirt factory; Fotis Batzas as Cosmas their attorney; Kally Giannou as Nantia the manicurist; Alex Malaos as Iocasta’s son; Anastasia Pantelidi as Iocasta; Dimitris Pantos as Youri the indomitable Estonian who knows everyone’s secrets; and Katerina Zoupanou, Iocasti’s daughter, a wannabe chef who is cooking dinner at Iocasti’s.
Speaking with the GN, Mr. Dimou discussed the themes of “Dinner at Iocasti’s”, described accurately in the program as “a witty comedy with many elements of farce, a crazy social satire that parodies the industry of Greek family sit-coms”. “One very basic theme of the play has much to do with foreigners… their entry into Greece,” said Dimou, “The other is the slowly changing shape of the Greek family… with its secrets rising to the surface we realize it isn’t as holy or as peaceful as was supposed. The theme of homosexuality confronted by Iocasti as it is revealed through the character of her son, Stefanos. And the theme of the emergence of the crisis… this was an the era in which, at least in northern Greece, where I live and which I can judge well–many businesses were leaving Greece to relocate in Bulgaria other Balkan countries because there were cheaper costs. These themes are what the play revolved around… they are the leitmotifs of the play.”
With music by Stamatis Kraounakis, each scene creates such anticipation for the action of the next that the lack of an intermission in this hour-long play is welcome. A conversation with director Anastasios Samaras revealed that this smoothly rolling action is to be credited to the artistry involved. “The production, I must say, was not an easy one,” said Samaras, who had “the great chance” to meet and exchange thoughts with Akis Dimou, who was invited by the Greek Cultural Center to fly in from Thessaloniki especially for the first weekend’s performances, “Like every low budget production, “Iocasti’s Dinner” disguises lots of effort… tons of hours in rehearsal within a minimal time frame and with limited financial means. And the work is predominately on a volunteer basis. To reach performance level you need commitment to the project, belief in the actors, and ‘space’ to express yourself. These are vital to a decent outcome.”
Mr. Dimou answered the question of what would be the themes of the play, which was written in 2008, would be were he to write it today. “Yes, it would be different, because the situation in Greece has changed since then… now we are at the center of a great economic and social crisis in Greece. I would say that then we had begun to see the first signs of the crisis without fully realizing it. Today, however, we have realized it very well. Obviously it would be a totally different work, largely having to do with bow the Greeks are counteracting the social and economic crisis they are experiencing, that is, what is each person targeting in an attempt to combat the crisis, in order to emerge from it with as much strength as possible, and as well as is possible.” As to whether this story could be presented as a comedy, Mr. Dimou answered that it could. “I believe that all things can have a comic as well as a tragic side, depending on the vantage point. That we are undergoing what we are now in Greece does not mean that we must lose our humor or our objectivity…. it must also be seen from the comic side.”
The Greek-born Akis Dimou obtained his first degree from the Law School of Aristotle University in Thessaloniki, where he also obtained his Master’s in Penal Code and Criminology. His first theatrical work, produced in 1995, was the monologue “…and Juliet”. Since then, twenty of his plays have been performed in both funded and private theaters. His plays have been translated into English, French, Spanish and Portuguese and have been presented in Greece, England, Belgium and Spain. He lives in Thessaloniki.