The children of the H.E.L.P. afternoon program put on a brilliant display of linguistic fireworks in their production of “Medusa and Poseídon” at the Hellenic Cultural Center on Sunday May 31st. The H.E.L.P., which stands for Hellenic Education and Language Program, is an after-school Greek language and cultural program dedicated to advancing Hellenic culture. It originated from a group of Greek-American parents who dissatisfied with the palate of Greek education and methodology by the local churches opted to spearhead their own after-school program.
Chris Orfanakos, the founder of the program, stated,”Our parents came to this country with much fewer resources than we had, with less education than we have, so it was unforgivable that we could not put together a program for the next generation.” HELP instead of focusing exclusively on Hellenic culture from a canonical or ecclesiastical perspective tries to instill the universal love of Hellenism based on classical civilization. It started with a register of a handful of students and has grown to close to 100 students in a matter of two years. The program had a humble start with hosted space from the Athanasiades Foundation and two moves later rents dedicated space on 37th Street off Broadway in Astoria.
Judging from their performance at the Hellenic Cultural Center, the language education youngsters receive from H.E.L.P. is second-to-none. Their Greek was fluent and fluid like the waves of the mighty Poseidon’s empire in the play’s backdrop. Children spanning from elementary to middle school, each with multiple roles, recited a linguistically complex reenactment of the myth of Perseus. Their intonation of Greek did not display any American accent, which for second-generation children and beyond is quite impressive. The puns and idioms on Greek words and the occasional joke about wild Greek women making men wild got punctuated laughter from the audience who might have had to resort to flipping through a Greek dictionary or at least glance up at the English subtitles over the stage.
The play began with the ill- fated mingling of mortal with immortal; a gorgona, a mermaid, has fallen in love with a mortal the fisherman Iophon. They organize a tryst at the sacred temple of Athena. The goddess getting wind of this castigated the ill destined lovers and places a curse on the gorgona making her into the Medusa, a hideous monster that turns anyone who dares gaze upon her into stone.
The curse unfolds in the house of King Akrisios who receives the prophecy of the Pythia that the progeny of his daughter Danae will bring death to him and his sovereignty. Unable to put an end to the prophecy by killing his own child, he instead opts to imprison her in a golden tower. The birth of Perseus is inevitable as no one, not even a powerful king can escape the will of the gods. As so many unwitting mortals do in Greek mythology, he puts his daughter and her child in a coffin to be given to the whims of the ocean.
This particular rendition was punctuated by the comic lines of fisherman and especially by the slapstick fumbling of the two sister gorgons who bickered over the lone tooth and eye they had to share between the two of them. (The eye wound up rolling along the stage and the tooth falling out of the gorgona’s mouth just as she was hungrily about to bite into a gnawed apple.)
I marveled at how these children recited memorized lines of difficult Greek (with a little prodding from their acting coach Ioanna Kotsarou and director from the sidelines when they’d get stuck). Overall, for a kids’ amateur performance, “Perseus and Medusa,” served as a wonderful display of Greek language and culture that will be immortalized in the domes of their adoring parents and community members. It shows how much someone can learn by getting a little HELP for a few hours after school. Bravo paidia kai tou chronou.
We will continue with our existing programs: geography, history, but we will introduce a preparation program for passing the Greek Proficiency exam recognized by the Greek Ministry of Education.