Can’t find a better man
Swapping his comedy hat for drama, playwright and director Alex Lykos explores the dark side in his latest play Better Man
A chance meeting with an old friend was the inspiration behind Better Man, the latest play by Alex Lykos and Bulldog Theatre. The meeting shook Alex to his core. Here was a man who used to be the boy that Alex would spend his childhood with, go to school with, laugh with. But here was a man involved with the underworld in America, a man involved in a drive-by shooting, a man who was on the run for killing another human. Confronted by the chance meeting, Alex wondered how can two people have such a similar upbringing yet one chooses one path in life, whilst the other, another. Nature versus nurture? What causes two men with the same backgrounds to lead completely different lives, and how does the darker path impact on the Greek family unit?
Better Man explores this by telling the story of the reunion of two good friends - Jimmy Trothellos played by Jey Osman and Ricky Young played by George Harrison Xanthis. One's a professional sports player while the other is a professional drug dealer, who uses his bookshop business as a cover for dealings with the underworld. When both friends meet up again, they are confronted by their differences now, compared to their former similarities. Not only does Lykos explore the affect this has on their relationship, but he also delves into themes of the Greek culture.
Lykos plays with notions of what's right and wrong in accordance with growing up Greek, and living up to parental expectations. A risky theme, but one that has been met with criticism and applause alike. He tells Neos Kosmos that on one hand people are in denial that this is going on in the Greek community, but all in all, the play has been received positively and that it resonates with people of all ages - from teenagers who are facing the choice of living their own lives to parents who want the best for their children.
"It can be a little bit dark," explains Lykos about the play, "but I think exploring the relationship between parents and kids are the heart and soul of our humanity so it's always fascinating to explore.
"You look into your own relationship with mum and dad and you think what would happen if I were this, and hadn't met this expectation and how it would affect them and how disappointed they would get and not get."
The writing of this play began in 2005, but Lykos chose to come back to it recently. Writing this particular drama has been a cathartic experience for the playwright who says that it can be difficult to explain things to his parents and articulate to them what he is feeling, so writing it down and expressing his feelings this way helps them understand when they see the show.
Lykos' introduction to the theatre came after his professional tennis career came to an end. He was left looking for another pursuit, a challenge in life. It was while he was writing captions for his many photographs that he had from his time playing tennis in America, that he noticed the creativity writing gave him, and the stories he could tell through words was something that delighted him. He began to write a screenplays, but with film funding being so difficult, Lykos concentrated on local independent theatre.
"We have a blank canvas to tell the stories we want to tell, there are no paradigms we have to fit within," says Lykos about working at Bulldog Theatre. Bulldog Theatre - his own independent company - has been able to hold various successful productions, such as the three-part Alex and Eve series that has thrust Lykos into the public consciousness of the Greek community. The series centred around an inter-racial couple - with Alex being Greek and Eve Lebanese - and their trials and tribulations surrounding getting married, having a baby, starting a family. A comedy, Lykos is quick to point out that Better Man steps away from the gags and enters into a serious arena.
"This is a bit of a risk," says Lykos about holding a drama so soon after the success with Alex and Eve.
"People tend to not attend dramas - they want to laugh, and if you run at a loss and you put all that time in it makes it difficult to justify and pushing a riskier story," explains Lykos.
The cast of Better Man are young Greek Australian actors who - as Lykos puts it - are "waving the flag for the next generation of Greek Australians".
"When I started about ten years ago, that was unheard of - two young Greek Australians carrying a production," says Lykos.
Through Bulldog Theatre, Lykos gives talented Greek Australians a chance to hone their craft, to develop in the theatre industry but also celebrate their Greek heritage in the arts. But for now, Lykos is concentrating on this production before venturing into more theatrical ventures he has up his sleeve. Having said that, one things for certain. He shows no sign of slowing down as he keeps looking for the next story, the next play to write.
"If you look at something from a different angle there is a story to tell," he says, "the gems come from that third eye in the back of your head that says 'this will make a great story'".
Better Man - a play by Alex Lykos - is on at Sidetrack Theatre, 142 Addison Road, Marrickville, until Saturday 10 June. For tickets call (02) 9550 3666 or visit www.bulldogtheatre.com
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