‘On the Periphery’ showcases cultural solidarity, fight for happiness at Potrero Stage

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As the stage lit up on the opening night of “On the Periphery,” an entirely new world unfolded. Set in the fictional Turkish neighborhood of Genies and Angels, Sedef Ecer’s latest production follows the parallel arcs of two generations fighting for happiness and better lives. Using narrative-style exposition, Ecer tackles themes of environmental contamination, social division, immigration and gentrification in a captivatingly magical way. 

The production focuses on a fictional reality TV show, modeled on Turkey’s delightfully over-the-top media, called “The Sultane.” The show provides a unique, successful juxtaposition of class relations while interrupting the characters’ onstage reality, as every time Tamar (Leila Rosa) watches a segment of “The Sultane,” the actual Sultane (Ayla Yarkut) appears onstage to flash her brilliant white smile and urge viewers to call upon her for help. 

Ecer overlays this storyline with the history of Dilsha (Sofia Ahmad), Bilo (Lijesh Krishnan) and Kibele (Olivia Rosaldo-Pratt), three of the people who first established Genies and Angels. The kind-hearted couple of Dilsha and Bilo recount their journey from their rural village to the city’s outskirts, chronicling the community’s transition from a cluster of makeshift shacks to a small urban settlement of their own. Through their narrative’s simplicity, Ecer’s screenplay successfully portrays themes of displacement and urbanization in an allegorical manner without overstressing the point.  

Scenic designer Kate Boyd’s use of minimalistic, corrugated metal sheets represents the slum’s extreme adaptability and serves as a backdrop to the sense of fragility and homeliness that Genies and Angels simultaneously provides. As Dilsha reflects, although the shacks aren’t much, they feel like home to their inhabitants, even to the free-spirited Roma woman, Kibele. Tamar and Azad’s (Zaya Kolia) repurposing of the space reflects its continuity and persistence as a place of warmth and love, while the reuse of the set after Dilsha and Bilo’s migration to France emphasizes the cyclical nature of living on the periphery and being an outsider because of class and race. 

Cassie Barnes’ lighting design further aids this mixed atmosphere of homeliness and uncertainty, with warm golden lighting illuminating Tamar and Azad’s home scenes while discomforting green light denotes the toxic factory’s threat over the neighborhood. At the climax of Dilsha and Bilo’s story arc, the stage lights flare up with crimson red tones and chaotic noise, portraying the disorder when police arrive to demolish the neighborhood. 

Ahmad, Krishnan and Rosaldo-Pratt’s acting blends together beautifully; through Erin Gilley’s direction, their body language and dialogue subtly reflect their level of comfort and companionship. In many scenes, Rosaldo-Pratt remains onstage silently, listening to Dilsha and Bilo’s dialogue, adding to the familiarity between the characters. Gilley also utilizes this technique to intersect the separate timelines of Dilsha and Bilo, Kibele and Tamar and Azad, as Tamar stayed onstage in various moments when Dilsha and Bilo appeared. 

The play’s language, adapted from its original Turkish by Evren Odcikin, also conveys powerful messages. Throughout the play, the characters discuss various manifestations of a periphery: the periphery between the Roma people and the Turkish inhabitants of the neighborhood, the Periphery Road that separates the slums from the wealthy section of the city and the periphery between the Middle East and the West. Each type of periphery serves to divide people, although Dilsha looks past these separations in her friendship with Kibele. 

Golden Thread and Crowded Fire’s production of “On the Periphery” demonstrates the play’s nuanced universality while highlighting the play’s specific context in Turkey. “On the Periphery” recounts an impactful tale of acceptance and belonging. The play argues that although society constructs the world into a series of in-groups and out-groups, by showing that history repeats itself in cycles, people can choose to make a conscious effort to stand together in solidarity as Dilsha, Bilo and Kibele did.

Luna Khalil covers culture and diversity. Contact her at [email protected].