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Love of a Prisoner: Piraye

I would like to talk about a recent play that I watched in the theater: “Piraye”! Of course, now you are asking, “Well, who is Piraye?” Piraye is the name of the wife of a famous Turkish poet named Nazım Hikmet Ran. She stayed as his wife all throughout his prison years, between 1938 and 1950, and the play is about those 12 years, which demonstrates Nazım’s psychology through the letters he wrote to his wife, Piraye. Before getting into the details of the play, we must take a look at the life of Nazım Hikmet and his greatest love Piraye.


Who is Nazım Hikmet?

Nazım Hikmet, one of the most important representatives of contemporary Turkish poetry, was born on January 15, 1902, in Thessaloniki. Thessaloniki, which is located within the borders of Greece today, was a province of the Ottoman Empire in 1902. Nazım Hikmet Ran, who was under the spotlight with his critical attitude in his poems, was sentenced to 28 years and 4 months in prison in 1938 for "inciting the military for a coup d'état" and produced his most successful works during this captivity. After 12 years of jail, he decided to go on a hunger strike to end this suffering. Nazım and his mother Celile Hikmet started the hunger strike together. This hunger strike was also supported by the foreign press and became an agenda item that shook the whole world.

He was released in 1950 with the support of many famous Turkish artists, thanks to the help of Nazım Hikmet's mother Celile Hikmet. The coming to power of the new government also played an essential role in his release. On November 22, 1950, he was awarded the International Peace Prize by the World Peace Council, but, because he could not attend the ceremony, the award was given to Pablo Neruda, a famous poet and politician, on his behalf. After Nazım Hikmet was released, he went from the coast of the Black Sea to Romania and from there to Moscow with the fear of being killed and never returned to Turkiye again. On July 25, 1951, he was stripped of his citizenship of the Republic of Turkiye by the Council of Ministers.


Who is Piraye?

As I have mentioned before, Piraye is the name of Nazım Hikmet Ran’s wife who mentally helped him a lot during his imprisonment, and, perhaps, became the reason why he held onto life during this period. Piraye was born on December 23, 1906, and her full name is Hatice Piraye Altınoğlu. Her first husband was Vedat Örfi, and they had a son named Memet Fuat. She married Nazım Hikmet in 1935, 3 years before his arrest. Nazım Hikmet treated Piraye's son Memet Fuat just as his own and frequently mentioned him in the letters he wrote to Piraye. However, even though she supported him a lot during his imprisonment, Nazım did not return to her after he got released. Towards the end of his imprisonment, Nazım Hikmet started writing letters to one of his relatives, Münevver Hanım, and fell in love with her after a while. On March 23, 1951, Piraye ended her marriage with Hikmet and never got married again.


About the play

The play about Nazım Hikmet’s imprisonment, which was also his most productive period, can be described as an emotional feast of 80 minutes. The play does not have an interesting visual structure, but Murat Çidamlı (the actor who plays Nazım Hikmet) managed to fill this gap perfectly and did not make the audience feel the lacking visuals.

The play reflects the despair and resentment of a man thrown into prison for a crime that he did not commit. The background effects of the play were disturbingly high. Sometimes the actor's voice was suppressed by the background effects, especially while quoting Nazım Hikmet’s poems, and it made it quite difficult to hear. However, the clever scene placements and the lighting are successful enough to compensate for this error. The outer lines of the room are formed with a single lantern placed on the stage and the railing patterns bring the prison environment to life.

The play rotates inside a white square drawn to the stage that represents the prison cell and inside it are only a table, a chair, and a small stool.


Murat Çidamlı appears with a suitcase in his hand. Just as a lonely person creates new things in his mind, that suitcase becomes a loom or a bed when necessary. Murat Çidamlı gives an incredible performance throughout the one-act play and enchants us with his acting talent. Thanks to the lighting and the successful performance, you get the feeling that you are seeing Nazım Hikmet in real life, and it also helps that Murat Çidamlı looks a lot like Nazım Hikmet. For us to better understand prison psychology, the concept of time is almost never used throughout the play, and it causes the audience to lose their sense of time. Since you do not have the slightest clue when the play will end, you can only realize that it is over when it actually is over, just like prison life. Murat Çidamlı does not take even a small step outside the white lines throughout the entire play and suddenly crosses them in the last scene. Piraye is quite successful and is definitely worth watching. Whether you are a Nazım Hikmet fan or not, if you want to see his poems as a live theater performance, I definitely recommend you to go watch this play. Who knows, you might notice some details that I could not.


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