"Do you know what people will remember about me? They will say: "He slept with Maria Callas. He slept with Jacqueline Kennedy. He was f...g rich," this is what the legendary Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis confessed at the end of his life to one of his closest advisers. If he didn’t say this in reality, he surely says it in Martin Sherman’s play Onassis that could be seen in the London Novello Theatre this season. The play is based on the controversial book Nemesis by Peter Evans, published in 2005. The author explores the probability that Onassis paid personally for the assassination of Bobby Kennedy. Aristotle believed that Kennedy did not allow him to strike a deal with the Arabs and therefore paid his Palestinian partners to eliminate him. According to another version, Onassis’ wife – Tina Livanos – actually revealed his plans to her lover, his biggest rival Stavros Niarchos, who threw a spanner in the works.
Martin Sherman’s work concentrates on the last 12 years of the life of the billionaire and his relationships with women by using documentary resources without the play being a documentary itself. Important people in the life of Onassis, such as his daughter Christina and his first wife Tina Livanos, are missing in the work to allow the author to focus primarily on the relationship Aristotle - Jacqueline and the fight for prevalence of one over the other.
"I had to give myself to a Turkish soldier to provide food for my family when I was 16 years old. Then I realized what a woman feels when she gives herself to a man. I know what to give women in bed. Ask your sister if you do not believe me," this is what Aristotle Onassis probably told Jacqueline Kennedy when he first met her. She was still the first lady of America; she had just lost her unborn child and recovered on the yacht of the billionaire. Shocked initially by her host’s straightforwardness Jacqueline was obviously intrigued by this man who was much more different from the men surrounding her. He allowed himself to treat her as a woman, as an object of sexual desire, irregardless whose wife she was and what her social status was. The history proved this tactics to be successful.
The relationship between the two as lovers and later as man and wife, is the heart of the play the scenes of which takes place not only on the famous yacht of Onassis but on his own island of Skorpios where the couple wed, and in the White House where the shipping magnate was invited as a special guest for the funeral of John F. Kennedy. Their pursuit of power over one another that originally stimulated these two powerful figures sexually, gradually turns into boredom devoid of any eroticism, it turns into bitter forbearance between a bored husband and a ruthless wife overspending for clothes.
Sherman systematically builds the image of a cynical Onassis, of a highly consumerist attitude towards the fair sex whose vital energy is concentrated entirely to possess famous women. Making money is taken as fact. It is difficult to say that the billionaire for whom world literature is limited to Homer and his taste to music is not beyond rebetiko, is able to value the art of Maria Callas. For him she is the opera diva, missing from his collection of famous lovers on the one hand and on the other gives intellectual flavour to his company of empty celebrities. Similarly, Jacqueline Kennedy symbolizes for Onassis the American upper class that never accepted him sincerely, and the possession of her is a victory over the next opponent.
The plot in "Onassis" is told entirely in the ancient Greek literary traditions. The storytellers are the financial advisers of Aristotle as they are his most trusted people, his closest friends, against compensation of course. The only people who continue to stand him until the end of his days. They are presented as paid hypocrites, willing to do anything to please their capricious employer. It is not coincidence that the Athens Foundation Alexander Onassis in the board of which are the heirs of the true financial associates of Onassis responded to the play explaining in an official statement that Evans' book is a work of fiction, not biography. Peter Evans commented that he was surprised that the businessmen of the Alexander Onassis Foundation needed five years to realize this.
As in any ancient Greek drama a choir sings in the "Onassis" play too. This is a rebetiko group with bouzouki and dances and its deliberate inferiority speaks of the artistic tastes and preferences of the protagonist. Excellent scenery with clear lines and minimalist style carry viewers from Greece to Washington and to yacht cruises, and the relevant video installations and audio effects contribute for the atmosphere of the narration.
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