A Scene-Stealer of Depth and Dimension
Some people are literally born for the stage.
Take, for example, Achilles Massahos.
His first stage role was as Jesus in the manger while in first grade at his Catholic school.
In an ironic plot twist, his next role will be as Kris Kringle in “Miracle on 34th Street.” It will be Achilles’ 17th appearance with Radio Redux, in a role that comes some two decades after he arrived in Eugene via a circuitous path.
In the decades following his debut in the manger, Achilles has played real-life roles ranging from candy maker to Hollywood prop master and assistant art director, hardware store manager to masseur.
After junior college, he was accepted into the prestigious Neighborhood Playhouse School of Theatre in New York City — whose alumni include such stars as Gregory Peck, Diane Keaton, Steve McQueen, Robert Duvall
and Grace Kelly, among others.
He exemplified the classic “starving actor”
"Actors create an opportunity for people to see themselves — reflections of themselves. If people leave a production feeling more of themselves, I’ve succeeded in what I wanted to do,” Achilles says. Photo by Bub Bishop.
lifestyle, auditioning for films, television and Broadway while waiting tables and hoping for that big break. A near-miss came in 1976, when he auditioned for a major role on Broadway that would have had him acting alongside Richard Burton, an almost certain step to greater roles and possibly even fame and fortune.
Achilles was runner up for that part, but has no regrets about what might have been.
“All you gotta do is look around and take note of how rich your life is. When it comes down to it, there is no difference. Life is wonderful. Life is amazing,” he says.
On advice from his agent in New York, Achilles moved to Los Angeles “where I could starve in the sunshine instead of starve in the snow,” Achilles says. He continued to audition. He found small roles. He took odd jobs. He continued to starve in the sunshine.
The stage, and a desire to build a family, took him to the Bay Area, to Seattle, to Breitenbush Hot Springs and eventually to Eugene. But by then, Achilles had reached a low point. He was questioning his worth and seeking a personal comeback.
He returned to the stage in 1996, with starring roles in a couple of Eugene productions. That’s where Radio Redux director Fred Crafts — then an arts writer for The Register-Guard — called attention to this “newcomer” and reawakened Achilles’ love of acting with the power of a defibrillator.
Fred wrote a glowing review of the first production he saw Achilles in — “It Runs in the Family” at the Very Little Theatre. A scant week later, Fred eagerly reviewed Achilles in “Noises Off.” The roles were light years apart in terms of character, yet Achilles pulled them both off with great skill and apparent ease, causing Fred to comment in his “Noises Off” review: “Who is this guy?”
“This guy” had only been in Eugene a short time and, at that low point in his life, Fred’s review became a turning point. It didn’t hurt that Fred, in a “Things I Am Thankful For In 1996” column at year’s end, “listed me as one of the things he was thankful for,” Achilles says, still amazed at the idea 20 years later. “How do you not feel pumped after someone I didn't even know welcomes you like that?
“[Fred] was the resurgence of my acting,” Achilles continues. “I have felt so blessed being part of the Eugene theater community. We have a phenomenal group of talented people here.”
“Achilles is one of those special performers you cannot take your eyes off," says Radio Redux founder and director Fred Crafts (above left).
Says Fred, “Achilles is one of those special performers you cannot take your eyes off. His ability to take command of the stage is as mesmerizing as it is rare. He’s a first-rate comedian … a scene-stealer. Yet, he’s not just a funny man. His characters have great depth and dimension. He blows me away. He’s a magical man.”
Achilles rediscovered the challenge and reward of the stage. And he felt a renewed appreciation for the deeper role an actor can play for the audience and for himself, he says.
During a rehearsal in Soreng Theatre at the Hult Center, Achilles takes a break to watch scenes featuring other actors.
“It helped me see this is what I’m supposed to do. I’d come in contact with what I was put on this Earth to do,” Achilles says.
In broad terms, Achilles says he believes most people are uncertain about who they are, where they stand amid the conflict and complexity that seeks to define daily life.
“I don’t think that we know who we are. Actors create an opportunity for people to see themselves — reflections of themselves. If people leave a production feeling more of themselves, I’ve succeeded in what I wanted to do,” Achilles says. “If I can touch one person in that audience, I’ve accomplished my goal.”
Although Fred contributed to Achilles’ return to the stage in Eugene, it would be years before they would work together. Achilles first saw a Radio Redux production at a small venue in Pleasant Hill.
“I wanted to do it. I couldn’t figure out why Fred hadn’t asked me,” Achilles recalls. “So I got in touch with him. I said: ‘Fred. This is so much fun. I want to do this.’ I’ll be working with Fred forever if he wants me.
“And now playing Kris Kringle… who wouldn’t want to do that?” Achilles says. “Thank you, Fred!”
— Story by Bub Bishop. Bub retired as a former reporter for The Register-Guard.