Sept. 26, 2008
Skaragas' theatrical premiere celebrates anniversary of Greek Cultural Center
Writers in residence at the University of Iowa International Writing Program (IWP) typically travel during their three-month visits, often to give lectures or readings at other institutions, or to visit sites of historical and cultural interest. But when Greek writer Jianni Skaragas travels from Iowa City to New York in November, his purpose will transcend the usual IWP excursion: He will be involved in auditions and rehearsals for his new play, "Prime Numbers," which has been selected to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the Greek Cultural Center.
"Prime Numbers," which he adapted from his English-language novel of the same title, is set in Tijuana, Mexico, but it draws on the themes of fate and destiny that were characteristic of Euripides and other Classical Greek drama, combined with his experience in acting and legal studies. "Both fields have had a huge impact on my craft," he says.
In law school, Skaragas specialized in forensic evidence. "It started with a curiosity about how someone could commit the perfect crime," he says. "That's not as crazy as it sounds: Each act leaves trails behind. We are present in the world but sometimes almost invisible, but after a crime the trails become more definite -- some act changes your destiny, other people's destiny, and becomes an object of investigation."
In "Prime Numbers," a writer struggling with a novel manuscript finds himself somehow mysteriously transported to Tijuana, where a storm traps him with a group of people -- one of whom is a math genius -- who seem eerily similar to the characters he is writing -- some of whom come to a violent end. In the novel the writer muses that one cannot choose to play God -- to change the course of destiny -- while simultaneously stipulating the consequences.
The story asks the question: Who is real, and who is not? Prime numbers -- those special numbers that can only be divided by themselves or the number one -- become a symbol for this quest to discover what is authentic and what is not as individuals strive to identify with society and realize their destinies. Skaragas was intrigued by the "weird devotion" that the mathematically inclined have to seek and identify these numbers that have the minimum number of possible divisions.
"If I tell myself a lie, that's an illusion," he explains. "If I tell you a lie -- as a formal, defined social group -- it's fiction. I use the lie not to hide, but in an effort to be a part of the group. It's the group that defines how each individual connects with it."
If you believe in destiny, then you might think that would explain the unexpected dovetailing of Skaragas' IWP residency and the New York production, which will open in February. The Greek Cultural Center invitation came out of the blue after his script was passed from person to person over a period of months.
Meantime, Skaragas had chosen to use a Fulbright Foundation fellowship to come to the IWP this fall, so that the residency and the New York production fit neatly together.
"When I got my Fulbright scholarship, I was interested in getting to New York," he explains. "I was aware of the IWP, but not in detail. When I started to research I was deeply moved. I cannot think of any more essential way for writers to co-exist and work, not as self-centered figures and ambitious, career-planning individuals, but as a group of people in a city that lives with literature. I have not seen such a place in the world, where the presentation of literature means something.
"I really believed I had to work on this manuscript at the IWP," he says. "I was so sure that it's the ideal environment. It was just a hunch. It has to happen here."
Skaragas has published four novels, including "Epiphania," which recently appeared in a French translation. He has spent the past decade writing for Greek television and radio, and his short stories, essays and other writings appear regularly in literary journals and newspapers throughout the Hellenic world and Europe.
Learn more about the Greek Cultural Center at http://www.greekculturalcenter.org.
Biographies of the writers in residence this fall at the IWP are accessible at http://iwp.uiowa.edu/writers/index.html.
For UI arts information and calendar updates, visit http://www.uiowa.edu/artsiowa. To receive UI arts news by e-mail, go to http://list.uiowa.edu/archives/acr-news.html and click the link "Join or Leave ACR News," then follow the instructions.
STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Arts Center Relations, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 351, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500