In Aphrodite’s Refugees, Monica Dionysiou finds new ways to share stories she grew up with: in this case, as show’s description puts it “the fate of four teenage refugees is merely a high-stakes card game played by the Greek goddess, Aphrodite.” Dionysiou tells us the story of her father and aunts’ experience fleeing the 1972 Turkish invasion of Cyprus that killed over a thousand other Cypriots. The use of technology and live artwork is inventive, though imperfect and the underlying story is tremendous.
Dionysiou most often plays the role of her own father, George. He’s cocky, brave, and maybe a little full of himself, but lovingly depicted. It’s fascinating to watch him grow as he tells the story, from a kid scamming another refugee for a shilling to a soldier scorned by his girlfriend. He tells the story along with his three sisters.
It’s heartbreaking when the family is forced to flee their home and one of George’s sisters chooses the one most important thing to take with her: the documents that will keep her and her siblings in school, if they ever find one again.
One of the sisters is played by the recorded voice of an actor speaking Greek while Dionysiou’s turns her back on the audience and lip-syncs. It adds authenticity because that aunt never learned English, but it leads to one of a couple of technical flares that could use polish.
During parts of Dionysiou’s performance, artist Aaron Young cleverly paints his addition to a mural of Cyprus while hidden behind the paper canvas. Strong backlighting reveals the mural to the audience as Dionysiou directs. The only drawback was how distracting it is to see a paintbrush’s shadow and another slow stroke of color appear on the paper, upstaging the performer for minutes at a time. It was a very valuable addition, but at a cost.
closes July 29, 2018
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Young’s watercolors were augmented by a projection that came to life behind the mural and made brief, sometimes animated additions: paratroopers dropping, the tent city, a Turkish plane threatening to strafe the family on the ground… This was the cleanest technical element, making Young’s work even more vivid.
Reading the synopsis, one might expect Aphrodite herself to play a strong role. References to her playing a game of cards with Ares is the backbone of the story, but is limited almost solely to a single image of them playing cards repeated every 15 or 20 minutes. It doesn’t help that Dionysiou used a live looper so we could hear a single line echoed back with each iteration, doubling down on the repetition. Use of a live looper is very popular in this year’s Fringe. Dionysiou often took two tries to remember the instrument but she could do just as well without it. The story stands on its own merit.
Aphrodite’s Refugees tells a vital story for today’s politics. the plight of Dionysiou’s family is gripping.Knowing that the story ends with two talented artists collaborating here in DC is a strong argument for welcoming refugees into our country with open arms.
Aphrodite’s Refugees. Chief creative mind, Monica Dionysiou. Performed by Monica Dionysiou and Aaron Young. Produced by MonTra Performance. Reviewed by Marshall Bradshaw.
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