Illegal Helpers at the Austrian Cultural Forum, is a new German play by Maxi Obexer about the refugee crisis in Europe. Dialogue is taken directly from transcripts of quiet activists who help terrified refugees cross borders and avoid deportation, plus one fictional character (Lukas, played suavely by Viennese Markus Hirnigel) who at first observes what is going on from a cozy bourgeois distance. The other characters tell their stories, including a beloved white-haired aunt (Vivien Meisner, riveting) who considers herself less an activist than one who considers refugees adoptive family. Un-didactically, the 1990 Dublin Regulation is evoked that requires EU countries to accept applications from asylum seekers, and the fact that one can get legal action without legal status. The play makes you demand a fairer, more humane world.
A half-cynical, pony-tailed lawyer played by Mark Byrne instructs a group in how to build a case for citizenship, which includes getting a good interpreter. Then, he lays out his astronomical charge (10,000 euros) for the process. Although this was only a staged reading (and barely staged—music might have helped), you can see the possibilities. The ideas stick. Obexer’s play doesn’t make you laugh, but on the other hand, it doesn’t try to wring tears.
In Germany, as the play points out, only 2% of asylum seekers get to remain. In this country, the crisis is deportation. Every American has a friend who has recently been deported without reason, dragged away in the night. Illegal Helpers has relevance everywhere now. Performances have been in Chicago, Washington D.C., Hungary, and Chechnya. New Yorkers will have another chance to see Illegal Helpers in late August.
Kalustyan’s is a Little India food shop with a cafeteria serving mostly vegan food of rare deliciousness. Spinach, eggplant, lentil, and couscous entrees come with salad, pickles, olives, and pita. Mujadarah (spiced lentils and delicately fried onions) platter is a favorite. Available drinks are nonalcoholic at this small upstairs eatery, open from 11 a.m. to 7:30.
The megastore downstairs is open from 9:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. It is impossible to eat at the restaurant without wanting to do a little shopping on your way out. Bird’s nest pastries, halva, lentils of every shape and color, packaged snacks, nuts, dried fruit, herbed bread and samosas, stuffed grape leaves, curry pastes, chutneys, cookies, jams. Kalustyan’s house-made baba ghanoush is smoky and about the best in the world. The extensive tea section includes Lebanese love potion tea with 32 ingredients. People also come here for such health potions as fresh turmeric, senna leaf tea, gluten-free flours, spirulina, and neti pots.