Aphrodite’s Refugees Tells Immigrants’ Plight
Aphrodite’s Refugees is storytelling and live art coming together to paint a picture that is part true, part possible — the fate of four teenage refugees is merely a high-stakes card game played by the Greek goddess, Aphrodite, and her brother, Ares.
Writer Monica Dionysiou shares stories of her family’s experiences during the Turkish invasion of Cyprus that lasted from 1974 to 1983, forcing families into one exile after another as villages were destroyed and territory passed from one warring party to the other then back again. It is relevant to today as the U.S. grapples with immigrants and President Trump’s various, bumbling attempts to keep them out.
Despite the title, Aphrodite doesn’t have a starring role in the play. Instead, Dionysiou creates a story of the Greek gods playing cards over coffee each morning. When Aphrodite wins, the chances for peace increase. When Ares, who has a tendency to cheat, wins war rages. The Greek gods were famously capricious, and the card game is an effective metaphor for the random events that disrupt the family’s life.
Dionysiou plays four refugees, but most often plays the role of her uncle George. He is cocky, brave and a little full of himself, but lovingly depicted. It is fascinating to watch him grow as he tells the story, from a boy scamming another refugee for a shilling to a soldier scorned by his girlfriend. He tells the story along with his little sister.
As the family is forced to flee their home, George’s sister chooses to take the documents that will keep her and her siblings in school, if they ever find one again, along with two books she was given by the headmaster at her old school. The sister is played by the recorded voice of an actor speaking Greek while Dionysiou turns her back on the audience and lip-syncs. It adds authenticity because that aunt never learned English.
While Dionysiou tells her story, artist Aaron Young illustrates it through live painting on a paper screen, which depicts the land, an attack by a Turkish fighter plane, a scorpion, a racehorse and an ever-growing tent city, as well as projections of maps of the island and flames as villages are burned. Strong backlighting reveals the mural to the audience as Dionysiou speaks.
Unlike many present-day refugees, the family’s story has a happy ending. They stay together and are resilient. Everyone survives, a new home becomes available and Dionysiou’s father immigrates to America where he is welcomed and able to build a new life. The power of Aphrodite’s Refugees is to show the universality of refugee’s stories by relating the particulars of a few individuals’ lives.
Presented by MonTra Performance
Written by Monica Dionysiou
Featuring Monica Dionysiou and Aaron Young
Performed in the Red Room at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 400 I St. SW
Remaining performances: July 24 at 8:45 p.m., July 29 at 4:30 p.m.