ASTORIA – Mission to Ditmars as part of their Launch Pad Reading Series presented a reading of Jonathan Alexandratos’ new play Words Cannot Describe This on November 19 at Broom Tree Theatre at Astoria First Presbyterian Church. The play is based on the Greek-American playwright’s maternal grandmother’s harrowing immigration story. From a wealthy family in Northern Epiros, the character known in the play as O, seeks out the help of her family’s former servants’ son to get out of Albania a few years after World War II and the death of her parents. Her father had made his fortune in America but returned to Northern Epiros during the Depression, building a fine house which was used as the Nazi headquarters during the occupation and then burned down by the Nazis in their retreat. The family rebuilt their home but it was never the same. The violence between the communists and the nationalists soon makes life a nightmare for the people of the region, many deciding to cross the border into Greece in the hope of eventually immigrating to the United States, O among them.
The servants’ son, Fotos, however, is not at all eager to help O since he plans on staying on his land, where his mother is buried. Even after O gives Fotos her dowry, and they reluctantly marry, he refuses to leave for Greece, in spite of obvious signs, including gunfire and bomb blasts, that it might be time to go.
The move to Greece during the Civil War is not easy and one of the characters points out after crossing the border that it looks pretty much the same on the Albanian side of the border. Immigration to the United States also has its complications for O and Fotos, something relatable to any ethnic group in search of a better life.
Alexandratos manages to convey the complicated history of this period in Northern Epiros, post-war Albania and Greece, without weighing down the action of the play. The talented writer demonstrates considerable skill sharing the at times brutal and also humorous story of this family. The balance between laughter and tears is well done and will undoubtedly improve as the playwright noted that adjustments will be made before the next reading on December 14.
Alexandratos spoke with The National Herald about the play, noting that it is five years since he began working with Mission to Ditmars as a Playwright in Residence and they have been extremely supportive of his work throughout the years. He told TNH that the Queens Council on the Arts (QCA) has also been vital for him and many Queens-based artists. Alexandratos received a New Works Grant from the QCA’s Queens Art Fund, just one of the many programs that foster creativity in the borough.
In view of the recent news from Northern Epiros, the fatal shooting of Greek Konstantinos Katsifas at the hands of Albanian police, Alexandratos’ play is timely, though the idea to write the family story goes back to his earlier work, We See What Happen, which tells the story of Alexandratos’ paternal grandmother’s immigration to the U.S. in 1951. Following that play, the writer knew he had to tell his maternal grandmother’s story as well.
Audience members applauded enthusiastically and are looking forward to the next reading as well as a full staging of this imaginative telling of a powerful story.
The cast, Cyndi Bonacum as O, Scott Caspar as Fotos, Dani Martineck as Iphigenia and Barbra Wengerd as Dia/George Polk/Stana, did a fine job in the reading, conveying their characters with the emotion and wit appropriate to the text, skillfully directed by Jessica Bashline.
More information about Mission to Ditmars is available online: missiontoditmars.com, on Twitter @missiontomars, Instagram, and Facebook.
Additional information on Jonathan Alexandratos and his plays is available online: newplayexchange.org and on Twitter @jalexan.