By Florence Avakian
Special to the Mirror-Spectator
NEW YORK — A man and a woman, representing the Armenian people and their cultural and survival spirit, came out on a small, lit stage. They warmly greeted a large audience in a darkened New York pub on January 18, repeating again and again, “Good day,” from a poem by Paruyr Sevak.
So started a fascinating dramatic journey with dozens of Armenian poetic masterpieces — some well known, many not, brought to life by theatrical artists Gerald Papasian and Nora Armani, on stage at Joe’s Pub, where they performed the play they wrote and have staged frequently, “Sojourn to Ararat.” The themes covered Armenian identity, homeland, daily chores, love, suffering, genocide, exile, dispersion and life in a new land. Interspersed throughout the 65-minute performance were vocalizations, and haunting songs and music by the legendary composers Komitas and Sayat Nova.
The props were minimal — one or two costumes, two chairs, two stacks of paper and an Armenian drum, a minimum of objects conveying maximum effect. The use of the paper became especially symbolic as page after page was crumpled and thrown on the floor, representing either piles of lentils, blazing fires or dead bodies, as well as what is left of a creative and vibrant culture. At the end of the play, the crumpled papers were gathered together and reassembled into the original two stacks, connoting renewal and rejuvenation.
Another symbolic gesture occurred when towards the conclusion of the presentation, all the props were piled together in one large heap and dragged around the stage signifying the leaving of their ancestral homeland, and starting life in a new and foreign country. But the yearning for the homeland never dies. This was delicately dramatized in Kuchak’s “I Was the Seedling,” where he notes, “I was the seedling of a peach, among stones and rock did I grow. They pulled me up, and transplanted me to a far-away alien row. They make fine sugar water and drench me from head to tow. Oh, carry me back to my homeland. Feed me on melting snow.”