Actor and playwright Anthony Skordi as Aristotle Onassis in An Evening with Onassis at the American Theater of Actors Off Broadway. Photo: TNH/ Zafeiris Haitidis
NEW YORK – No matter what one’s personal opinion might be about the “Great Tycoon” it cannot be denied that Aristotle Onassis was a larger than life character in the pantheon of 20th century historical figures, especially for those of us of Greek descent. His remarkable life story is the stuff of legends and bringing that story to life onstage is no easy feat even if Onassis’ life is a great mine of dramatic potential wherever you dig. Actor and playwright Anthony Skordi has taken on the task of bringing the shipping tycoon to life in an impressive one-man show, An Evening with Onassis, which opened on March 3 Off Broadway at the American Theater of Actors in Manhattan.
On March 4, a red carpet event preceded the play with the Greek community’s favorite comedians Basile, Ellen Karis, and Angelo Tsarouchas, joining local Broadway actors in support of the show. Skordi arrived in character as Onassis wearing a tuxedo and accompanied by two glamorous ladies, including Greek actress Eleanna Finokalioti as Maria Callas, smiling and posing for the cameras as they once had in the heyday of their relationship.
Once inside the theater, where proof of vaccination and masks were required, the audience settled in for the masterful performance by Skordi as Onassis, along with a number of other characters he seamlessly slipped into before our eyes. A true testament to his tremendous skill as an actor, Skordi with a change of accent and/or posture became Yiayia Gethsemane, Uncle Alexander, his father, Italian opera singer Claudia Muzio, and, of course, La Divina herself, Maria Callas, among many other characters in the play. Even latecomers and cellphone interruptions were no match for Skordi’s talent and presence. Through his skillful performance of Onassis’ life story, a more well-rounded figure emerges from the surface understanding we may have had of the man himself. At times, Onassis seems a character directly out of Greek mythology whose hubris will cost him dearly, then a character from Shakespearean tragedy, like Richard II: “Thus play I in one person many people, and none contented,” offering us a bit of a cautionary tale and some life lessons within this entertaining evening of theater.
For all his drive to succeed in the world, to project the image of the gregarious Greek tycoon, Onassis could not escape the tragic events that shaped his life from the Smyrna Catastrophe and the loss of his loved ones to the death of his only son Alexander in a plane crash in Athens. The yearning to be loved and to belong is always there. The complicated man and his complicated relationships with his family members and the women he loved emerge in this play with a depth of understanding that Skordi manages to portray with an emotional authenticity that is surprisingly refreshing, especially when the subject of the play is such a well-known figure.
Skordi wipes away any preconceived notions from the very opening moments of the play and draws the audience along on this journey with Onassis through history in what could easily be considered a masterclass in solo performance. His wit and intelligence keep the audience riveted and on their toes as Skordi is not afraid to break the fourth wall. Director Dikran Tulaine brings his skill and experience as an actor to the production while the lighting and sound by George Nicholas added another level of depth and drama to the performance.
An Evening with Onassis written and performed by Anthony Skordi should not be missed. The play runs through March 20. Tickets are available on Eventbrite: https://bit.ly/3CivWYn.
Among those present at the March 4 performance were benefactor Lou Katsos, assistant director and production manager George Zouvelos, James DeMetro, filmmaker George Stephanopoulos and his wife Elena, Argyris Argitakos, Ted Klingos, Frosso Tsouka, Professor Nicholas Alexiou, George Kyriakopoulos, and Billy Chrissochos and his wife Despina.
A reception with food provided by King Souvlaki concluded the evening on March 4.
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