While Olympia Dukakis may have stumbled upon the acting profession, there was never any doubt about which career path her younger brother would take.
“She had a couple of careers she thought about until she got involved in acting, but for me it’s what I always wanted to do,” said her brother Apollo Dukakis, who will share the stage with his sister in the Shakespeare & Company production of “Mother Courage and Her Children,” beginning Friday at the Tina Packer Playhouse in Lenox, Mass.
“I’m one of those who always knew what I wanted to do. In my heart I always wanted to be an actor.”
Now in his early 70s, Apollo Dukakis has carved out quite a successful life in the theater business. While he did his share of television and film work (his resume includes “LA Law” in 1989, “American Heart” with Jeff Bridges in 1992, “Seinfeld” in 1995 and “ER” in 2005), it is his off-Broadway and regional theater credits that have kept him a busy actor.
“I did a couple of feature films and a lot of episodic TV work, but that kind of work eventually dried up for me, so I’ve been concentrating on theater,” he said. “That is what has kept me a busy actor, working in regional theater around the country in Dallas, Denver, LA and New York.”
'Mother Courage and Her Children'
WHERE: Tina Packer Playhouse, Shakespeare & Company, 70 Kemble Road, Lenox, Mass.
WHEN: In previews Friday through next Thursday; opens Aug. 2 and runs through Aug. 25; performance times vary
HOW MUCH: $95-$15
MORE INFO: (413) 637-3353 or www.shakespeare.org
A native of Lowell, Mass., Dukakis is working for the second summer in the Berkshires with Shakespeare & Company. He and his sister teamed up last year in the troupe’s production of “The Tempest.”
Because of his TV and film work, Dukakis has spent much time on the West Coast where he has been a regular performer with A Noise Within, a classical repertory theater in Pasadena, Calif.
“I’ve done a lot of Shakespeare, but great plays are great plays, and great parts are great parts so I don’t really have any preference,” he said. “I like humor, and ‘Mother Courage’ has plenty of humor in it even though people think of it as a great play with tragic overtones.”
“Mother Courage” is set in Poland and Germany during the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) and focuses on the struggle of Anna Fierling, nicknamed “Mother Courage,” a woman who follows the Swedish army with a pull cart in hopes of trading with the soldiers and making a profit. However, because of her proximity to the conflict, three of her five children are killed. The play was written in 1939 by German dramatist Bertolt Brecht, who came up with the play in response to the German invasion of Poland.
Dukakis plays The Chaplain, John Douglas Thompson plays The Cook and Olympia Dukakis is Mother Courage. Tony Simotes is the director.
“We did this play in 1977 when we were opening up a new theater in Montclair, New Jersey,” said Apollo Dukakis. “My sister and I had started a theater company in a barn back in 1973 with some other couples, and when we opened our new theater this was the first play we did. I have some very good memories from that experience. I also played the same character, The Chaplain, who along with The Cook are vying for Mother Courage’s attentions.”
When critics refer to “Mother Courage” as one of the best plays of the 20th century, Dukakis says he’s in complete agreement.
“The woman and her children are just trying to survive in this countryside ravaged by war,” he said. “It’s a human drama with political and social overtones, and it’s also somewhat controversial. It’s an anti-war play which has this poor woman going through one catastrophe after another. I think it’s a great play, a comment on our society as well as the human spirit.”
So, where is the humor?
“Our director, Tony Simotes has come up with a way to emphasize the humor, and I enjoy that immensely,” said Dukakis. “Sure, it’s a tragic play, but when you use humor it’s a way of opening up the play to your audience. They really seem to connect to the material because they’re laughing, and then they’re also able to be moved more by the profound elements in the play.”
Dukakis stayed close to home for college, majoring in comparative literature at Boston University. He moved to New York City after graduation and has been a hard-working actor ever since. He owes much of his success to his longtime wife, Maggie.
rock of relationship
“I wouldn’t be where I am without my wife,” he said. “She is the rock in our relationship. She was also an actress, but she sacrificed that career so one of us would have steady work.”
Dukakis has a son and two grandchildren. His son works at UCLA, but was never interested in acting.
“I tried to introduce him to it once when he was younger and it didn’t work,” said Dukakis. “He came to me when he was much older and said he didn’t want to live on the edge, like his parents. Well, I wouldn’t say we’ve been living on the edge. I feel very fortunate to have my career. I’ve been around, I got to know people, and then the phone rings and they offer you work. It’s been pretty good.”
Working in the Berkshires with his sister has been very special for him.
“I feel like someone has given me a gift,” he said. “It’s great to be back in Massachusetts working with my sister.”