nytheatre.com review by Ed Malin
July 21, 2011
You may have heard that the island of Crete has an older and more interesting history (and also musical tradition, culinary tradition, etc.) than the rest of Greece. The fascinating rhythms of Crete are sung and danced in Three Graces, with libretto and lyrics by Ruth Margraff, and music by Nikos Brisco. The piece is directed by Marcy Arlin. Remote Crete did not become independent from Ottoman Turkey with the rest of Greece in 1830; it took until 1898 for a separate Cretan state and then another 15 years for union with Greece. The show is set during the time of a failed rebellion in 1889 and is jam-packed with action.
The scene is set by Karaghiozis, a grotesque stock character who is half Greek, half Turk, and prone to play tricks on both populations in his small town in Crete. Michales is a rebel who lost his brother in an earlier revolt and is waiting for his opportunity to fight back against the Turks and their leader, Pasha Cengiz. Irini is Michales’s wife, who is resigned to the somewhat mythical struggle. However, the Pasha’s fiery trophy wife Roxelana incites Michales to rise up. This pleases Roxelana a lot, as she is a Central Asian captive and does not really stand on either side of the conflict. Russia and the other powers are not going to come to Crete’s aid—at least not for a few more years—so Michales harasses Pasha Cengiz and starts a new rebellion. A two-headed emblem of Constantine as well as the hyperactive character of Karaghiozis with his mixed ancestry show Crete as an island ready to tear itself in half. Michales’s gains soon turn to losses, and he and his friend Lambros fight Pasha Cengiz. The men of Crete are defeated this time, but Irini quite symbolically resolves to take up arms herself.
The show has been workshopped over the last five years, including through a Fulbright grant to do research in Greece. As I mentioned, there is much wonderful music and a thoroughly Greek dramatic structure (the program mentions such terms as parabasis and references the 17th century poem Erotokritos). There is a certain amount of dancing, often behind a transparent, psychedelically lit screen. My complaint is that the music frequently overpowers the lyrics. Such a well laid-out project deserves to be heard and understood. Having read the script, I think it would be helpful to provide a historical timeline to the audience, as well as a small glossary of terms like taksim (Turkish/Arab musical improvisation) and mangas (drug-using young rebel on the fringes of society, associated with rebetika music). Crete is portrayed as always being in revolt and emblematic of all of Greece. The effect is similar to, say, Verdi’s opera Sicilian Vespers, with an equally dramatic but very different soundtrack.
Irina Kruzhlina’s costumes are decently exotic. Christopher Weston’s lighting is essential for creating the inner states of desire and revolt. The Café Antarsia Ensemble, led by Nikos Brisco, does a great job with the oud and other instruments.