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The Refugees: A Contemporary Greek Tragedy

by | Aug 22, 2021

“The Refugees” performed at the Barber Theatre, directed by Davidson alumnus and visiting professor Steven Kaliski. [photo credit – Davidson Theatre Department.]

The Davidson College Theatre Department is welcoming the new academic year with the world premiere production of The Refugees, an intriguing play written and directed by Stephen Kaliski. The play is terrific!

The play was produced in association with Adjusted Realists. [photo credit – Davidson Theatre Department]

Produced in association with Adjusted Realists, a New York based company co-founded by Kaliski, that tells “theatrical stories about slightly unhinged worlds,” The Refugees amateur/professional cast incorporates current and alumni Davidson College theatre students with actors from New York.

Davidson alumnus Kaliski is now a Visiting Assistant Professor of Theatre and Writing Studies at the college. He began to write The Refugees in 2018, blending his burning concern about global issues—climate change, dispersed peoples, the voices of influencers—with a contemporary take on the structure of ancient Greek theatre. The creative professor nails it!

Set in a contemporary Argos on the outskirts of Athens, a prosperous, jaded queen is cajoled by her activist children to consider offering asylum to masses of immigrants displaced by war and climate change. The five-actor Ensemble and a Boy represent the displaced Athenians, Thracians, and Minoans in The Refugees story.

Bemoaning their heartache for “what we let happen to the planet,” Orestes (James Shakow) and Electra (Ariel Urim Chung) urge their mother Clytemnestra (Rachel McPhee) to face the inextricable conditions. Narrating the sequence of events, Nurse (Savannah Deal) claims, “I know how to the fix the world, if only others would listen,” while the Messenger (Kessler Catterall) is concerned with the status quo. Everyone’s performance is eloquent, strengthened by the chorus of the Ensemble (Raul Galvan, Caroline Gschwind, Suzanne Lenz, Jenayeda Shepard and Regan Sims).

The COVID-delayed premiere of “The Refugees” was worth the wait. [photo credit – Davidson College Theatre Department]

The widowed queen longs for grandchildren, who she believes Orestes and his lover Pylades (Matt Mastromatteo) can produce. Clytemnestra has been convinced by Electra that the Thracian Boy (Woodland School eighth-grader, Soren Mortensen) is her grandson.

The Refugees was scheduled originally to premiere in March 2020 when COVID-19 cancelled the show. A few days later, the distraught cast, itching to deliver the play’s powerful message, opted to read their parts over Zoom. The story’s impact was hard to conceive. Kaliski, however, improved his script, redefined some characters and recast several roles. He and the company at Davidson College deserve a standing ovation.

Considering today’s global chaos, The Refugees’ message couldn’t be more timely or poignant. Imagined or not, the plot’s environment is real. Perhaps some monologues could be tightened, but nevertheless, The Refugees storyline is delivered with realism, humor, satire, humanity, and passion. The plight of the refugees is urgent—a search for compassionate countries with people who are willing to shelter displaced people.

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