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Politics

The Lady of Ro Coming to UCLA: An Interview with Author Gianni Skaragas

December 18, 2019

LOS ANGELES – The Lady of Ro, starring the acclaimed Greek actress Fotini Baxevani will be presented on January 31 and February 1, 2020, in Los Angeles. Co-sponsored by the Center for the Art of Performance (CAP) at UCLA and the UCLA Stavros Niarchos Foundation Center for the Study of Hellenic Culture, the performance is also held under the auspices of the Secretariat of Greeks Abroad, which supports remarkable initiatives addressed to the Greek diaspora.

This rare theatrical experience casts a new light on a woman who became a Greek folk legend through hope, courage, and exquisite tenderness. The story is inspired by the life of Despina Achladioti, the Greek widow known as the Lady of Ro, after the deserted island where she took refuge during the two world wars. After the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974, the Lady of Ro became a hero and folk legend. Told with compassion and humor to spare and infused with Baxevani’s striking performance, The Lady of Ro is a transcendent production that evokes a specific time and place yet movingly describes the universal human condition. Through these performances, audiences are invited to consider current events in the Eastern Mediterranean and to reflect on the power that a single woman can have in asserting Greek sovereignty.

The Lady of Ro opened in Athens to great acclaim in October 2017 and garnered an enthusiastic response from audiences on its two-year tour in Greece, Cyprus, and in Perth, Western Australia. Both UCLA performances will take place at the historic Freud Playhouse, 245 Charles E Young Drive East in Los Angeles.

Tickets are available at: https://cap.ucla.edu/calendar/details/the_lady_of_ro2.

The National Herald spoke with Gianni Skaragas, novelist, screenwriter, and playwright, to find out more about his work and about how he approached the telling of this powerful story.

TNH: What inspired you to write The Lady of Ro?

Gianni Skaragas: Having suffered the beginning of the economic crisis in Greece, I found myself drawn magnetically to the kind of stories where the personal, historical, and political converge— to the kind of characters who forge new identities and reshape old ones. I felt that the life of Despina Achladioti is a meditation, a journey through time, character, and the soul of a country. I wanted to write a story about a vulnerable, stubborn, independent woman who fights her way through history, and back to the choices, mistakes and wounds that make her human.

TNH: The subject of the play (and the story) is closely connected to current events in the Eastern Mediterranean. How did these events influence the writing of the story?

GS: After two decades of writing, I feel that when you write in or about a troubled part of the world, you have to capture the different gradations of trauma and the importance of being alive as a participant in history. I spent a long time trying to absorb the Greek epxerience, to understand the smallness of the country, the admirable, the unfulfilled and the embarrassing— that’s actually what I’m trying to convey in my American short fiction. My version of the Lady of Ro is a story of one woman’s struggle to shape her own truth and destiny, but also a chronicle of ordinary people who learn to live and love in the most desperate of circumastances.

TNH: The Lady of Ro is an intensely personal story. Can you describe how you researched the topic? Were you able to visit her house? Members of her family?

GS: My research was focused on exclusive interviews, but the hardest part was the blend of fact and fiction. I had to invent a certain kind of manners of a woman before her time, to inhabit the mind and heart of the woman who became the Lady of Ro.

TNH: Was the play written with a lead actress in mind? Can you describe your collaboration with Fotini Baxevani?

GS: Absolutely. Fotini and I met as actors in a horrible show in Athens. That was twenty years ago. It was a time when she needed to have more control over her roles, and I used fiction as a mask for writing about private feelings and exploring my style. Our working-in-tandem relationship sparked later. She is the kind of actor who surprises you and takes you to an emotional depth that the script is demanding but you wouldn’t have thought of. Fotini goes in the same places that I want to go. She is completely present and always brings something new to a part.

TNH: How does this play/story fit in with your other publications? Is there a thread that runs across your books and stories that connects them?

GS: I’m not the kind of author who goes on mining the same terrain novel after novel. Every work of mine has to be a new departure, but I need my stories to portray flawed, overlooked and desperately optimistic people, who may feel they are not important: I write stories that tell them the very opposite.

TNH: What are you working on now as an author?

GS: I’m finishing my English novel, a story about two iconic women who became tragic figures when they decided to depend on men.

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