Backstage with Evalyn Hansen: If you were lucky enough to see the Oregon Stage Works Playwrights' Unit's last series of readings, "Seven Deadly Sins," you saw seasoned Broadway actress Gloria Rossi Menedes give delightful performances in six of them.
If you were lucky enough to see the Oregon Stage Works Playwrights' Unit's last series of readings, "Seven Deadly Sins," you saw seasoned Broadway actress Gloria Rossi Menedes give delightful performances in six of them.
Menedes' new restaurant, Blue — Greek on Granite, in Ashland, has been an overwhelming success. It's a family enterprise, which she shares with husband George, daughter Thea and son Alexei. As we dined on the outdoor patio of Blue, Menedes and I talked about the "Greek mystique."
When the two of us were in our teens, we spent six months studying at the University of California's Classical Theater campuses in Athens and Delphi, Greece. During our stay, the country was suddenly locked in a military coup, and we learned valuable lessons about politics and the power of theater.
GM: When you think of the watered-down suburban life that we led, for us to go to Greece, what magic we found in that amazing country. They love people, they love women, and they show it. There's always a kind of magic around the corner in Greece. People have that sense that something out of the ordinary, something spontaneous is going to happen, that sense of surprise. Being married to a Greek for twenty-nine years, that's part of the glue, "I wonder what's going to happen today?"
EH: And then, there was the Greek military coup that showed us the power of free expression and the power of art. The military went after the artists first.
GM: Artists can effect such change. Artists' ideas threaten on a big level. They needed to curtail that freedom of speech. Nikos Kazantzakis, who wrote "Zorba the Greek," was banned, and the composer Mikis Theodorakis had to flee. The new government found out that we were producing "The Lover," by Harold Pinter, and tried to suppress it. To them, Harold Pinter was political. The creepy thing is that they found out we were doing it. They were watching us.
EH: They even banned the classical playwright Euripides, and not Sophocles.
GM: Greece is an old culture; they're very connected to their history. Euripides challenged societal authority; Sophocles didn't. Euripides was dangerous.
EH: Before our time in Greece, I really never knew how to spontaneously go out and dance and just have a good time. There were those wonderful theater troupes that traveled from town to town throughout the country; it was such an appealing lifestyle.
GM: In Greece I could accept my boldness. Here, women are supposed to be quiet, demure, held-in. We live in a watered-down culture. Greek theater waved the magic wand to say, "Yes, this kind of boldness does exist; you're not just some kind of anomaly." When I got back from Greece, I was completely altered. It was an emotional quantum leap, an emotional sanction. It certainly helped me as an actor, to pick bold parts, and just go for it, and break boundaries. It's part of human nature, the limbic part of the brain that we push down: rage, anger and revenge. The Greeks really tap into that. And there is a lot of laughter. I've played Medea and Lysistrata — these characters are bold, outrageous. If you have the good luck to get to play some of these women and let go, it's very soul expanding; it has a fearless quality. You step into fearlessness.
Menedes will be reading again in "Hidden Agendas," the next set of short plays by the OSW Playwrights' Unit, to be directed by Peter Alzado. The readings will begin at 7:30 p.m. Monday and Tuesday, June 28-29, at the Unitarian Center, Fourth and C streets, Ashland. Cost is $10.
Evalyn Hansen is a writer and director living in Ashland. She trained as an actor at the American Conservatory Theatre and is a founding member of San Francisco's Magic Theatre. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.