October 17, 2012
By Bryce Isaacson
The stage is draped by the branches of an enormous tree. In its limbs hang pieces of clothing, like the ghosts of memory. The red and white checkered stage stretches out like a Dali painting, back into the Armenian sands of the past. Considering the skipping through time that occurs in the show, the scenery is appropriate.
We begin in the middle of the story: Alice Oghidanian has suffered a miscarriage and is starting to lose her mind. The play traces her story back to Armenia where she and her husband escaped the 1915 genocide. Then it surges on to their immigration, cultural assimilation and even into through to the grown-up lives of their children.
The story’s breadth is massive, and its texture feels like a combination of Fiddler on the Roof and The House on Mango Street, with splashes of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
The cast couldn’t be better. Sandra Delgado is fierce and mature as Alice, an attractive but strung-out woman who holds many secrets. Her daughter Estrella (Carolyn Hoerdemann) holds pain inside too, but is buoyed by her sunny Dominican husband, the exquisitely named Bienvenido Raymundo (Nicolas Gamboa). Gamboa is a radiant presence onstage, and his part is particularly well-written. I grew up in Latin American, and his every expression of thought and speech was a deadringer. Kudos to writer Adriana Sevahn Nichols for doing her homework.
Rom Barkhordar also shows great range in multiple roles, but most notably as Older Ardavazt. He injects some much needed humor into the show, but also brings great gravitas when called for with a commanding voice and piercing, expressive gaze.
Nichols has written a powerful story which is aided immensely by a superb cast. The heaviness of her script does occasionally undercut it. When dealing with genocide, well of course, lay on the woes. But when generations down the line continually get hit from all sides by unrelated troubles, the plot points threaten to get in the way of the characters.
And the play’s final note that a father shouldn’t have been so protective of his daughter is a letdown. She would’ve had a better life had she listened to him and not rejected her heritage. Where is the appreciation for the values which allowed this family to thrive in the homeland for generations? Perhaps the work is better reflected instead in the first scene with the line “We can choose happiness. That is the secret to life.” Ardavazt does and has some measure of peace, while the younger generation does not despite their comparatively lesser trials.
One final note, there were a couple kids in the audience bored out of their minds. The play is three hours long and more mature than the poster lets on. Don’t bring your kids.