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Four Generations of Anguish
History is long. Memory is short. And much is buried under the rug. Unearthing the past, Matthew Greene’s latest play, Gregorian, produced by Working Artists Theatre Project at the Walkerspace Theater, digs deep into the painful history of the Armenian people. Here the playwright examines the century-long effects of the 1915 genocide in which the Ottoman Empire slaughtered 1.5 million Armenians on four generations of the Gregorian family.
Using the fictitious Gregorian family to represent the plight of the Armenian people, this 90 minute play, with 5 actors and no intermission, is presented in a series of overlapping scenes which cover 86 years. It is a fast-moving, fact-filled, and often riveting, journey in which we find ourselves visiting Glen Cove, Long Island, a Hollywood studio in California, a hospital in New York City, and a refugee camp in Darfur.
The only Gregorian seen in the play, though other family
members are referred to, is lead actor Aaron Lynn who plays all four
generations of Gregorian men, each in his twenties. The first Gregorian
to make an appearance is genocide escapee 25 year old Bedos newly
arrived from Europe with his young son. In the ensuring scenes we
meet his Bedos’ son Alex, a fledging writer, his grandson Daniel,
an angry young man, and his great grandson, Peter an activist. It
is to Lynn’s credit that he manages to make each new Gregorian
Gladys, is busy coaching Bedos, as well as correcting
his broken English, for a talk he is soon to give about his family’s
genocide experiences at a gala to raise money for starving Armenians. We
quickly learn that Gladys and her husband, who is away on a business
trip, are housing both Bedos and his young son. In the course of her
lesson giving, which also involves having him taste a cookie from
a batch she just baked, we pick up our first clue of a physical attraction
between Gladys and Bedos.
Another 43 years pass and we find ourselves in a Manhattan hospital with 26 year old Daniel, son of Alex, and his fiancée Janine Baskin (Madeleine Barker) a congressional speech writer. It seems that Daniel, having been kept in the dark about his family’s genocide experiences, is at the hospital to find out all that he can about the past from his dying grandmother.
Complicating matters further is his relationship with Baskin who he considers his ex-girlfriend. She seems to want to patch things up but Daniel reminds her that she told him that he should “get out of Washington because you didn’t want anything to do with this shell of a man, who newsflash maybe is this kind of person. I don’t know what you came up to New York for but please, do what the lesser mortals do and forget. Move on.”
Jumping to 2005 - feeling very much like today - we are now with Peter, son of Daniel, grandson of Alex, and the great grandson of Bedos, at a Refugee Camp on Darfur. Daniel, a professional activist is in conversation with Sonia Riza (Geri-Nikole Love) a Rwandan genocide refugee, and an activist herself. Raza is there to talk about Peter’s “Woman of Darfur” project in which he interviews victims of the Darfur Genocide and post these videos online. He tells Riza that when he “started talking with all of these woman, they were practically mobbing me to tell their stories.”
The reason for Riza’s visit is to stop Peter from posting these videos, as she fears the consequences each victim will face from the Sudanese government for revealing this information. Heated arguments back and forth between Peter and Raza make this the play’s most compelling scene. For here the stakes, still very much in the news today, are spelled out in no uncertain terms. Will harm actually come to these women who are telling horrific tales that the government wants to withhold from the world? Though Riza believes so, Peter is doubtful. All he wants to do he claims “is to tell the truth about what is going on out here.”
With the above four introductory scenes, the template of the story, as well as each character’s relationship to the current Gregorian is established in the first twenty minutes of the play. What follows in subsequent scenes, each nicely unfurling as the play progresses, are well reasoned arguments, surprising revelations, unexpected happenings, a happy event, and a surprise or two.
It is Peter, whose opening speech, delivered before
we even get to the first scene that sets the tone of the play. “Where
the needle passes, the thread passes also.” It’s a saying
they have in Armenia, a saying that I heard from my father. An event
that pierces our experience today inevitably leaves a string of consequences
behind. We live now in a tangle of threads, a mess we can’t
begin to comprehend until we examine the needles of the past. Close
to a hundred years have gone by since the annihilation of the Armenian
people but their stories remain untold, loose ends dangling from the
fabric of history.”
I found Lang’s so-called “butterfly light” and “daffy” acting choices, albeit one, maybe two, were warranted, out of sync with the earnestness of the rest of the cast. Perhaps given the gravity of the story the play’s director, Jessica Dermody, felt that a little levity was needed to offset the play’s painful moments. This said, waiting to see what she would do next I couldn’t take my eyes off of Lang. I guess that is a complement of some sort.
Aside from a few slightly confusing scripted distractions – occasionally a character, sometimes with nothing to say, would suddenly appear and then disappear like some apparition during a scene, their prime purpose seeming to be a reminder that they were still alive, working out their problems, and that we might see them in the next, if not another scene – Dermody’s direction, working hand in hand with Charlie Sutton on movement, was quite deft, not an easy task given the split timing needed to smoothly link each scene to the next.
Subtly supporting the production with their technical
abilities is Jeff Hinchee (Set Design), Tina McCartney (Costume Design)
and Michael O’Connor (Lighting Design).
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