October 17, 2012
By Kerry Reid
As befits a company dedicated to stories of diaspora, Silk Road Rising (formerly Silk Road Theatre Project) always seems to shine brightest with plays that traverse years and continents, yet still find their greatest strength and solace in the twisted DNA of family connections.
If you saw Silk Road Rising's magnificent production of Wajdi Mouawad's "Scorched" a couple of years ago, you might uncover some similarities with Adriana Sevahn Nichols' "Night Over Erzinga." Both move backward and forward in time to tell a sorrowful story rooted in war and atrocity, and both require a fluid ensemble in which actors play multiple related characters, such as a young mother in an earlier time and that same mother's grown daughter later on.
In director Lisa Portes' beautifully crafted (if occasionally self-conscious) production, it's a rich, tensile and — given the grim back story — surprisingly funny multigenerational picture of what happens when people survive the unimaginable, only to find themselves utterly lost in a new world and at emotional odds with the people who are supposed to love and understand them the best.
The atrocity here — the 1915 genocide of a million and a half Armenians at the hands of Turks and Kurds (which Turkey still refuses to acknowledge) — and its effect on Armenian immigrants to America has been dramatized before in Richard Kalinoski's "Beast on the Moon," about a young Armenian couple trying to build a life in Milwaukee after the genocide.
Nichols' couple — Alice and Ardavazt Oghidanian — meet in Worcester, Mass. But Alice cannot shed the horrors she experienced in her homeland, and Ardavazt, who got out before the worst began, deals with his survivor's guilt by engaging in well-meaning but ultimately suffocating devices for protecting his fragile wife and rebellious daughter, Aghavni. The latter's name becomes Americanized as "Ava" — as one character observes, "You have to forget who you are to be free."
Of course, as usually happens in these kinds of stories, there can be no healing without painful confrontation with old memories. Nichols, particularly in the second act, flirts with the sentimental as the story shifts focus to grown-up Ava and her own attempts to build a marriage with the musically talented, sexy — and wandering — Bienvenido, himself an immigrant from a tough upbringing in the Dominican Republic. Ava's own dreams of being a dancer enrage her father and echo Ardavazt's similar dismissal of Alice's dreams of singing in public.
What Nichols teases out in many engaging ways is the question of how we use our dreams and our memories to sustain us — even when it would seem easier or even more salutary to forget both. Portes has assembled a terrific ensemble, with Sandra Delgado as young Alice and grown Ava doing some of the strongest work I've seen from her. Levi Holloway as young Ardavazt, Rom Barkhordar as the elder version, and Nicolas Gamboa as the conflicted but compassionate Bienvenido are also standouts in a cast loaded with smart and sensitive instincts. And Lee Keenan's set, with its overarching tree branches and quotidian kitchen-tile floor, captures the mix of profound family history and daily frustration Nichols lays bare.