Greek-American Playwright Maria Burnham’s new production explores a Greek mother’s desperation and the extreme lengths she goes to get what she wants.
Meet Maria Burham
Maria Burnham now calls Chicago home, but she was born and raised in Jackson, MS, to a Greek mom from Patra, and an American dad. Her father was a military man, stationed in Greece. There, he met and married Maria’s mom. When her parents returned to the States, it was to her dad’s native Jackson.
“It was a serious discussion between my parents and ultimately they decided to come back to the states for my birth. My parents lived in Greece through the junta and though I was born in 1975 when the new republic was founded, they were still worried that I wouldn’t be allowed out of the country. I have no idea if the military was actually forbidding babies from leaving the country, but it’s clearly something people believed was happening and that made it real enough for my parents.”
Jackson boasts a small but mighty and close-knit Greek community. Incidentally, her Godmother is Cat Cora’s mother. Many families congregated in the same neighborhood, and near the church. Maria said most of her friends — and neighbors — were Greek, and they attended the same school.
“We did have some strange experiences, as Mom tried to adapt to the South. She’d try to make fried chicken, but then she’d put oregano on it.”
Her family, including a younger brother, spent every other summer in Greece. After retiring from the military, her father opened a TV sales and repair business, and he’d close down the business to go. She still goes every other year, though, much to her chagrin, it’s for shorter stays.
Maria attended Louisiana State Baton Rouge, where she studied Creative Writing. She wrote her first play during this time, and staged it in 1995. After college, she lived in Memphis for a few years, before relocating to Beacon, NY — home of an active arts community, about 1-1/2 hours from Manhattan. There she wrote for a small newspaper. Maria began writing plays again around 2010, when she moved to Chicago, and staged the first one that year. She wrote about her life, but nothing specifically about being Greek, though some of her characters were Greek.
Over the last few years, many of Maria’s plays have been staged in Chicago. “North and Damen,” a well-received production at CIC Theatre, was set on a bus in Chicago.
“People in the city have a set daily pattern. We encounter people that are basically strangers but they feel like close friends. People ride the same bus every day. They chat on the bus, but it ends when they get off the bus. The play examines what happens when one disappears and you don’t know what happens to them, and how it can have a big impact on you, even when that person is virtually a stranger.
Another standout was also a collaboration with Strangeloop Theatre. “iLove” is a short play set in Chicago, about a girl in the hospital waking up from a coma, with no memory of what has happened. A man she doesn’t recognize says he’s her boyfriend. Actually, he’s the guy who pushed her down the stairs and stole her cell phone. Through information on her cell phone, he falls in love with her.
Mitera was initially a short play that was part of the Strangeloop Theatre’s development series, Loopshop, in 2013. After a series of well-received readings, it was extended into a full-length play.
The fictional story was inspired by Maria’s general experience growing up Greek.
“Major parts of the characters are made up, though the world they inhabit, and some of the ideas, personalities are based on people in my life. The Godmother is based on my godmother, who isn’t Greek but is married to a Greek. There’s a male cousin who is like a conglomeration of some of my relatives in Greece. Threads of my life are in this play.”
Mitera is the story of three Greek sisters in their 30s and 40s, who are preparing for their mother’s funeral. In the wake of the mother’s death, the daughters discover that their mother had secretly changed her will, and in order to inherit the business, the house, or any money, there is a new requirement: the youngest daughter must get married within a year. Despite all her efforts while the mother was alive, she didn’t become a grandmother, therefore, she’s determined to have grandchildren, even after death. This caveat to the will turns everyone’s lives upside down, and the daughters wonder, did they ever really know their mom?
Maria said this is not something her mother would do, but was inspired by imagining what lengths her mother would go to in order to become a grandmother — both Maria and her brother have yet to marry and have children.
Though the story is heavily infused with Greek culture, Maria said that people of other cultures will surely relate.
“Ultimately this is a story about love. Love between family members, the things people do for love, the bad choices people make in the name of love, the ridiculous lengths we go to out of love. That’s what makes all stories relatable regardless of setting. It’s not the trappings of a play that make a story compelling or interesting to an audience, it’s the heart of the story being told. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, see elements of your own life. My mom always finds the humor in things, and I try to emulate that.”
Maria said it was difficult to find Greek-American actors in Chicago, as many have moved to New York. The cast does include Greek-American Actress, Lilly Apostolou, who was born and raised in Chicago.
WindyCity Greek is giving away two tickets to see Mitera. Join our mailing list to find out how to get them!
Mitera is directed by Strangeloop Company Member Letitia Guillaud. Previews Thursday, April 7 through Saturday, April 9. The show runs Thursdays through Saturdays, April 14 – May 14. All shows at 7:30 pm, at The North Mansion in Berger Park, 6205 N Sheridan Road in Chicago. General admission $18; previews $5; discounts for students and seniors. 312.772.6275. Tickets