By Mehr Gunawardena
The Greek actress, singer, and politician Melina Mercouri was Greece’s national heroine, so Paola Hadjilambri, the actress and co‑writer of “Melina: The Last Greek Goddess,” had very big shoes to fill. The play was divided into five scenes: Defining Melina, The Early Years, Star of the Silver Screen, The Road to Ithaca, and The Last Greek Goddess. This structure made the performance streamlined and the information about Melina digestible and memorable. We learned that she was “born into duty, to fight,” and that she was “a rebel who needed constant surveillance.” Melina always wanted to pursue acting, and she did so without fear. She also pursued men without fear, as she led them on with “wicked determination.”
Melina’s first theatrical production got negative reviews, despite having full houses each night. She said that her “hatred for the audience was equal to their hatred of [her].” As she rose to fame, she was invited to attend and was nominated for an award at the Cannes Film Festival, where she met the love of her life, the film director Jules Dassin. Melina described him as “the artist, and [she] was the canvas.” She told us about their life together, and how they conquered the acting world. With Jules by her side, she won the award for Best Actress at Cannes for “Never on Sunday.” She said that she “had soap in [her] eyes and tears in [her] soap” when she heard the news.
I found this production to be an exceptional insight into the country, as seen through the eyes of one of its most dynamic and influential citizens. Melina’s excitement and career were steadily climbing, until the news of the 1967 coup in Greece hit her. She joined the struggle against the dictatorship, and was declared an enemy of the state as a result. She continued to travel the world to increase awareness of the dictatorship in Greece. She needed people to know that “democracy was being assassinated on the operating table” in the country that gave birth to it.
Melina was only allowed to return to Greece for a few hours, to attend her mother’s funeral. Seeing her country like this only made her fight harder. She committed to “fight it like a good Greek man.” After the fall of the dictatorship, she settled back in Greece, where she continued her political journey. She fought for Greece, for art, and for culture. She became the last Greek goddess.
Ms. Hadjilambri’s performance was intense and powerful. She embodied what it means to be a defiant, strong woman. Her determination to present Melina Mercouri to us in an authentic and fierce manner left no room for failure. Her eyes carried so much power and spirit that I felt Melina taking over her body to tell her story. “Melina: The Last Greek Goddess” is full of spirit, fight, and a love for Greece.
“MELINA: THE LAST GREEK GODDESS”
Written and Performed by Paola Hadjilambri
Nov. 6 at 7:30pm
Director & Co-Playwright: Paul Lambis
Make-up: Ioanna Marineli
Sound & Lights: Argyris Hadjilambris
Show Image by John Kotsovos
United Solo 2018
410 West 42nd Street
New York City
MEHR GUNAWARDENA is a writer from Sri Lanka who pursued her education and ambition in the United States. During her time at Clark University, she began experimenting with form and structure to make her writing as accessible as possible to all readers, while keeping true to her voice. She enjoys writing poetry and other fictional pieces with political and societal nuances, and is therefore drawn towards art with similar intentions.