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Culture

Zoe Anastassiou Brings Nuance to Psychosexual Drama

February 20, 2018
Stephanie Nikolopoulos

NEW YORK – Zoe Anastassiou shined as the lead at the world premiere reading of Kill the Beast, a psychosexual play written by L. R. Laverde-Hansen and directed by Howard Pflanzer. It was presented by Crossways Theatre Productions at the Bernie Wohl Theater on February 18.

Playing the role of Letta, Anastassiou brought humanity and depth to a character running away from a secret she wants kept in her past.

With the tagline “The love you thought lost has found you—with a vengeance,” Kill the Beast is a play that encapsulates the dramatic principle of Chekov’s gun. When Letta, a married mother in the American suburbs, refuses to go to her college reunion, her husband, Tom, played by William Kozy (A Crime to Remember), wants to know why he’s never met any of her friends from her past. Suddenly, Gracie, a woman from Letta’s college years, played by Susan Ly, arrives, and the characters spiral toward an inevitable, yet captivating, doom.

Kozy plays Tom as the sniveling husband you have a hard time feeling sorry for because he comes across as creepy – the play opens with him saying, “No one’s going to keep you away from me,” as he tries to tease out what he believes to be her “naughty” secrets – and pathetic for being manipulated. This is particularly true after Letta reveals: “I love you very much, but you love me more, and that is just so.” Ly brilliantly pulls off Gracie as the off-her-rocker villain you love to hate – think Mona Vanderwaal on Pretty Little Liars  – bringing comedic relief to the dark drama. “I will never move on. My loves and hates are forever,” is Gracie’s striking line. Letta is a woman who was running away from herself when she married Tom in an effort to be “reborn” and who is desperate to retain this dream of traditional domesticity. There is so much bubbling under the surface, yet the shrewdness of Laverde-Hansen’s script is in what’s not said, and the mastery of Anastassiou’s performance is her acting choice to show restraint.

TNH asked Anastassiou if she felt Letta’s dream was authentic: “Letta doesn’t really know what she wants. She has ideals in mind. She fantasized about what her future should be or what the safest future would be. Clearly Letta talks about her past like it was a threat. She speaks of losing herself, of being swallowed up.” Anastassiou explained, “Letta doesn’t have much self-worth. She believed that she needed another in her life to make her feel alive and special. […] When Gracie made her the center of her world, and she let go, she felt special, but something wasn’t right. So, naturally, she turned to someone whom she remembered had loved her when she was young, when she was purer. It looks like delusion, but I actually think Letta wanted this life with a husband, a family, a home, to truly work out.” There are several stirring moments in Kill the Beast when Letta sings. Anastassiou’s voice is soulful, rich and melancholy. Anastassiou said she wanted to portray Letta’s genuine desire for a “safer” life over the “pure passion, pure wild love that Gracie and her music gave her.”

Anastassiou was drawn to playing Letta because the character is complicated: “We all get tempted to lead the ‘easier’ life when choices are presented. Letta has an image of a life she thinks she wants and she tries so hard to make it happen and follow it, even if it means her true happiness is sacrificed. […] At what point do you realize that escapism is not the answer? These traits in Letta, in the world of Letta, seem very universal. I feel like we can all relate to something this play brings up, and art should make us question. Playing Letta and her many colors felt like a chance to show people that it’s okay to be complicated.”

Anastassiou knows a thing or two about complicated identities herself: “I sound crazy when I get asked the ‘where are you from?’ question because it’s complicated! […] I was born in London to a Greek father and Australian mother, raised and educated there until I was 18 and then came to the USA for undergraduate and graduate [school].” She confides, “I feel more Greek than anything.” Anastassiou says: “Having four cultures has been a tremendous gift for acting – not just the ability to play with different dialects, which I discovered I had a natural talent for, but also in helping me explore characters within cultures. I was fascinated with people.” She says, “I always knew I wanted to be an actor. My dad would say that is because of the Greek in me!”

Next up, Anastassiou will be in Miranda Theatre Company’s inaugural Liz Lewis Reading Series at MTC’s Creative Space, and as Don John and Dogberry in Classics in Color’s Much Ado About Nothing.

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