Sing, O Muse, of “Melina”

Lead Article, Reviews

By Chance Morgan
 
“I was born a Greek, and I will die a Greek.” The powerful words and fiery passion of Melina Mercouri came alive on stage in “Melina: The Last Greek Goddess.” Co‑written by director Paul Lambis and performer Paola Hadjilambri, the show tells, from her own point of view, the life of Greek actress, activist and politician Maria Amalia Mercouri, most often known simply as Melina. From her earliest exposure to the world of acting to her rise to the office of Minister of Culture, Melina’s story (as portrayed by Ms. Hadjilambri) is filled with a smoky sensuality and an irrepressible energy. Even as Melina describes the Greek people as “magnificently cursed,” her own life fits that same description, evoking the great, heartrending tragedies of ancient Greece. Ms. Hadjilambri explores Melina’s many loves and lovers, her successful acting career, and her political activism, with as much depth and earnestness as if it were Ms. Hadjilambri’s own story.
 
Much as Melina herself must have done in her day, Ms. Hadjilambri takes the stage with a “wicked determination,” and her own energy and passion bring out the audience’s love and enthusiasm. She sings Greek songs, dances Greek dances, and fully embraces that most ancient and esteemed of Greek art forms: the theatre. Her connection to the audience is electric and dynamic, even inspiring many audience members to sing along with her for several of the songs.
 
There is a distinct challenge in a biographical show such as “Melina: The Last Greek Goddess”: the immense effort and study required to embody someone who was very real and quite famous. While many contemporary non‑Greeks may be unfamiliar with the work of Melina, Ms. Hadjilambri’s performance would inspire a desire to explore it. Melina’s passion for her culture and history, her commitment to meaningful creation, her search for lasting love, and her defiance in the face of those who would erase or oppress her — these are all powerful and relatable qualities.
 
As universal as her humanity was, Melina’s story is also extremely, purely Greek. The show’s immersion in culture and language, though authentic and engaging, is a lot to process for those who are not familiar with the Greek ways. That said, the most powerful and honest artwork transcends cultural and linguistic barriers, and “Melina: the Last Greek Goddess” walks the line between embracing its heritage and opening itself to all. “I was born a Greek, and I will die a Greek.” That proclamation proved true for Melina, and she would surely be proud that she was reborn a Greek, to take the stage before a loving audience once again.
 
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
Theatre Row
410 West 42nd Street
New York City
 
CHANCE MORGAN is a writer and director currently based in New Jersey. He has worked for Dorset Theatre Festival, Northern Stage, and Bay Street Theatre. He is a graduate of Colorado Mesa University’s theatre program, and spends his time developing his screenplays and musicals.
 

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