Remembering Olympia Dukakis: late star's brother mounts tribute at Strand Theater

  • by David-Elijah Nahmod
  • Tuesday February 21, 2023
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Olympia Dukakis (photo: Joanna Tzetzoumis)
Olympia Dukakis (photo: Joanna Tzetzoumis)

To the general public, Olympia Dukakis was an Oscar-winning actress. But to the LGBT community, she will always be Mrs. Anna Madrigal, the pot-smoking transgender landlady in the various TV incarnations of Armistead Maupin's "Tales of the City" books. When Dukakis first played Mrs. Madrigal in 1993, playing an LGBT character was still risky for an actor. Yet Dukakis plunged into the role with relish, making Mrs. Madrigal her own.

Olympia Dukakis as Anna Madrigal in 'Tales of the City'  

Dukakis, who, in addition to her television work, performed in more than 100 stage productions and in more that 60 films, won the coveted Oscar for her work in the 1987 rom-com "Moonstruck." A 2020 documentary, "Olympia," recounts the actress' amazing life story.

She passed away at age 89 in 2021, leaving behind an incomparable legacy. On March 3 American Conservatory Theater will stage "Remembering Olympia" at the Strand Theater. This tribute to Dukakis is being put together by her younger brother Apollo.

"She often said that Anna Madrigal was her favorite of all her screen and TV roles," Apollo Dukakis said in an interview with the Bay Area Reporter. "The unconditionally and non-judgmental way Anna had with her friends and the world was a validation to the LGBTQ community. It was maybe the first time they saw someone who reflected their lives on mainstream television in a positive and life affirming way and it gave them hope and dignity."

Apollo Dukakis and Olympia Dukakis in The Whole Theatre Company's 1982 production of 'The Cherry Orchard'  

"Remembering Olympia" will offer the audience a glimpse into Dukakis' private life as well as an overview of her film career. The event will begin with an eight-minute photo montage of some of her stage work, along with intimate glimpses of family and friends.

This will be followed by "You and Me," a forty-minute two-character one-act play written by Apollo and performed by him and actress Kandis Chappell. "You and Me" will offer a deeply personal look at the relationship between sister and brother. That will be followed by a fifteen-minute montage of scenes from her films.

The montages were put together by Olympia's children, Christina, Peter and Stefan Zorich, and were originally shown at Olympia's memorial service at the Delacorte Theater in New York City. The evening will conclude with a Q & A moderated by Carey Perloff, former artistic director at A.C.T. Olympia had performed at A.C.T. a number of times.

"I wrote the play 'You and Me' with the hope that my sister and I could perform it together," he said. "But she passed away in May of 2021 before that could happen. We were always looking for a play to act together one more time. We had acted together many times before and she would direct me and I would direct her at the theater we both co-founded with a group of friends back in 1973 in Montclair, New Jersey called The Whole Theater Company."

Apollo Dukakis  

That theater company lasted for 19 years and staged productions to national acclaim. It was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Regional Theater. But awards meant little to her, according to her brother.

"You know, awards and such didn't mean that much to my sister," he said. "It was the work itself that was her passion and that gave her fulfillment. She appreciated the recognition, but her values were elsewhere. After she won the Oscar, when asked what it meant to her, she said she hoped it meant that she would get to work with wonderful actors and wonderful directors."

Those who attend the show at the Strand will learn about some of Olympia's other passions.

"Young people unaware of my sister's career and her influence will learn about one of this generation's greatest actresses and one of its staunchest activists for LGBT rights, for women's rights, and a spokesperson for Alzheimer's education," he said. "She was a funny lady who, like Anna Madrigal, loved her family unconditionally and without judgment. I know Olympia will be remembered as a great actress, an impassioned activist, and a beloved champion for gay and women's rights. But I'll remember as, next to my wife, the most influential person I ever knew who guided me, taught me, and loved me unconditionally."

"Remembering Olympia" March 3, 7pm, Strand Theater, 1127 Market St. $30.

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