Friday, August 28, 2009

The Greek Cultural Center Asks, “Are You a Prime Number?”

by Georgina Young-Ellis

Modestly tucked away at the back of a garden walkway, the Greek Cultural Center has been bringing great performances to Astoria and the world for more than thirty years. Currently, they are presenting the international premiere of Prime Numbers, an intriguing, avant-garde theater piece by Fulbright Scholarship recipient Gianni Skaragas. Though the play is in English, the Director, Set /Costume and Lighting Designers all hail from Greece. The multi-cultural cast reflects one of the main purposes of the Greek Cultural Center (GCC), as Board President, Demetres Beryeles, expressed, “to blend with the greater community and bring cultures together.”

To summarize the plot, Eddie, the main character, played by Stephen Lundberg, has written a novel about an author trapped in his own work with the characters he’s created. Eddie wakes up after an accident to find himself in a Tijuana motel during a hurricane with an odd collection of individuals: Julietta (Tereza Grimani), an attractive but troubled young pharmacist, Marguerite Gautier (Stacey Salvette), a former torch singer with a likable, cynical edge, Oedipus (Andreas Tselepos), a math genius with a big heart, Medea (Kalliope Koutelos), a transplant from Iraq trying to escape from her anguish, and Cain (Ceasar Nixon), the landlord, a tough guy with a swagger straight out of 1950’s Film Noir. When Eddie finds his lost manuscript, he realizes that the five characters are of his own creation; now he must kill them before they kill him.

Through-out the play, each character exposes some tragic or terrible truth about themselves in a series of well-interspersed monologues. Most notable are the two stories borrowed from the ancient Greeks: Oedipus, complete with complex, who is searching for the tender love he knew with his mother, and Medea, who rails against the country that has wreaked havoc in her own, and who reveals that in her desperate attempt to escape from her Marine husband, has inadvertently killed her children in a car accident. All the actors handle the challenging material with great power and energy while they adeptly change the sets, and control the lighting by use of pull chains attached to overhead lamps.

Projections are used to suggest different locations within the motel, and in order to change the mood. By employing slides and shadows, it seems that Director Fotini Baxevani was trying to suggest experimental film on stage, and did so with success, aided by expert lighting designer Orpheas Emirzas. Petros Sakelliou’s eerie music added to the overall effect.

Prime Numbers is the latest one of hundreds of productions that the Greek Cultural Center, located at 27-18 Hoyt Avenue South, has shared with the world since 1974. Well-known abroad, in many parts of the U.S. and throughout New York State, they are famous for their dance, music and puppetry presentations, as well as the classes they offer in traditional dance from the various geographic areas of Greece, instrumental instruction, and singing workshops led by renowned performer Christos Alexandrou. The center has participated in events in many of the major venues all around New York City and the East Coast, winning numerous, prestigious awards for their work, and, as Program Coordinator Fotis Michelioudakis pointed out, regularly receives invitations to perform at colleges, universities and cultural institutions far and wide.

President Beryeles stressed the charitable work the GCC participates in, such as blood drives and benefits, as the organization strives always to “reach out and help all the people of the community.” He noted that the GCC is about collaboration with everyone, not just within the Greek Community, and that their space is shared with many other cultural and ethnic groups.

Prime Numbers runs until April 5th , Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 and Sundays at 7:00. The Center is a little hard to find, but signs on the sidewalk point you toward a pathway that leads to the basement theater. Tickets are $20.00, or $15.00 for students, seniors and children and can be purchased by calling 718-726-7329 or via e-mail at It is an evening that requires you to think, analyze and explore the depths of human emotion; all in all, a fascinating theatrical foray.

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