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Three Graces & The Struggle For Rights

three graces the play photosAugust 7, 2014 / Long Island City LIC / Theater In Queens / Queens Buzz. By Michael Wood. On June 28th I attended the final performance of Three Graces at the LaGuardia College Performing Arts Center.

The title, Three Graces, has a historical reference to Greek mythology. The three graces include beauty, delight and creativity. These characteristics were oftentimes depicted by three young, frequently nude, women who were meant to fill the world with pleasant moments and goodwill. In art these three women are frequently shown dancing around in a circle to the divine music of Apollo. Since the play was written by an American woman with Greek roots, Ruth Margraff, I assumed the historical references had relevance.

The play opens in modern day Istanbul. Istanbul has long been both the cultural and economic capital of Turkey, while Ankara is the political capital of the nation. This is similar in kind to the national role of New York City in the U.S. vis a vis the governing role of Washington, D.C.

The play references recent modern day events - the Spring 2013 riots of Taksim Square / Gezi Park in Istanbul, where reportedly 11 people were killed and thousands significantly injured when the Turkish government / police cleared the park of a sit-in to protest a new government-lead real estate development in Taksim Square and Gezi Park. As is frequently the case, embedded in the protest were a number of issues and themes that went well beyond the real estate development itself.

Click here for the rest of our review of the Three Graces play w/ photos at the LaGuardia Performing Arts Center in LIC.

Three Graces & The Struggle For Rights

August 7, 2014 / Long Island City LIC / Theater In Queens / Queens Buzz. Continued.

original theater queens nycThe government-lead real estate development was to include a new mosque, opera house and cultural centers. These were to replace the current Ataturk Cultural Center. There were many items at issue, including the loss of open / green space in the crowded city, limits put on community comment / involvement in the plan, limits of free speech, cozy relations between the government and primary contractors, and the potential de-secularization of the Turkish government. It seems these issues have some universal ring to them and that is what the play was about.

We enter a Turkish Café where three musicians are playing Mediterranean music with an aromatic smokiness of Greek and Turkish cultures. There was a soccer match going on between Greece and Turkey on the television. While the two teams are fighting for victory in the soccer game, there’s a conversation going on between a Greek [Michales], a Turk [Cengiz] and a man dressed as a puppet [Karaghiozis]. Historical references to Greek / Turk conflicts of centuries ago are made as part of a flowing conversation that includes references to Constantinople, the three graces play nycOttoman Empire and the 19th century battle for Crete. There’s no shortage of conflicts between the two nations, but today the battle was being waged on the soccer field. We find hidden beneath the civility of modern societial institutions, the juxtaposition of cultural and historical rivalries and references.

We find that Michales, the Greek, is actually a Greek American from Chicago who has come to join the Turkish protesters at Taksim Square at Gezi Park. The Turk, Cengiz, is also a protester so they appear to be on the same side of the modern day issue, but some of the historical Grecian / Turkish cultural animosity lingers in the air and in time erupts.

Roxelan, the sister of the Turkish guy, Cengiz, rushes into the café out of breath. She’s been protesting at Taksim Square / Gezi Park and tells the others what has been going on. There are real photos of the event flashed on the stage to support her story. Students, teachers, artists and journalists are all at the protest and are being violently rounded up and jailed.

greeks turks modern theater nycWe are told saboteurs with bottle rockets have infiltrated the largely peaceful group to discredit them. Roxelana noticed Michales and they seem to hit it off in spite of the countries’ troubled histories. She does a Turkish dance.

The discussions go on in tandem with the action. They go out into the streets and return again to regroup. They talk about living up to one’s past, how the new consumer gadgets are the modern weapons of protest, and Roxelana says she feels so alive in her defiance of the oppressive government forces.

But the reality of real protesting isn’t pretty. And the images we see on the stage bring that home. There’s talk about how America is tapped out, Europe is a mess and so many other nations are struggling to break free of very oppressive regimes.

There’s a bit of a love story, a fight, food & culture and the story ends with the three main characters chanting,

three graces original theater queens nyc“We hope for nothing. We fear nothing. We are free.”

There's a growing amount of social unrest worldwide, which was shown to us on the video releases in the background at the end of the performance [see slide show]. We saw only a bit of this sort of unrest in this country just a few years ago with the Occupy Movement. I have begun to notice that the art and theater of Queens appears to be reflecting some of the frustration that's not yet found a clear voice.

Oscar Wilde once said, "Life imitates art, more than art imitates life." Perhaps through art and theater, this frustration will eventually find productive channels through which to express itself. And perhaps that is why the playwright chose the title Three Graces, hoping through the creative process to bring to the world pleasant moments and goodwill.

taksim square gezi park theater nyc queensAfter the performance I spent a bit of time catching up on the cultural and historical references made in the play – many of which I included in the introduction. The play has been traveling the nation establishing it’s own circuit. If you’re interested in seeing them, you can find them on www.theatrewithoutborders.com. Included with the listing of Three Graces on the theatrewithoutborders.com website was a quotation:

social unrest queens theater‘Defiance is as old as time, and forever young. I want to feel it. Get nervous my city. I am coming for a walk …’

The play is an original script written by Ruth Margraff, with original music by Nikos Brisco and the production was directed by Handan Ozbilgin of the LaGuardia Performing Arts Center.

Many thanks to all of them as well as the actors, actresses and musicians for a thought-provoking performance. The actors and actresses included John Cosentino as Cengiz, Ahsan Ali as Michales, Julio Trinidad as Karaghiozis an Marisol Demonte as Roxelana. The latter three actors / actresses are LaGuardia students or alumni.

Three Graces Photos & Slide Show

Click here to view the Three Graces photos.

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