By Aram Arkun
NEW YORK — Educator and dramatist Dr. Nishan Parlakian was one of those larger-than-life figures who seem to abound among the Armenians. A physically large man, he had a gregarious personality to go with his size. When he liked someone, whether or not that person was younger than him, he would begin to call his friend “my son” (or “my daughter”). He had a great following among actors and lovers of drama both among Armenians and non-Armenians, and was generous with his time, helping both institutions and individuals he felt were deserving of it.
Parlakian was professor emeritus at John Jay College of Criminal Justice (part of the City University of New York), where he taught drama, speech and English literature from 1970 to 1998. He received his doctorate in drama from Columbia University in 1967, after earning two master’s degrees (in theater and drama) from the same school and a bachelor’s degree from Syracuse University in 1948. During a long and distinguished career as an educator, Parlakian also taught at Pace University, New York University and Bronx Community College of CUNY.
Parlakian has translated and published a number of classical and modern Armenian plays into English, usually adding his own introductions. Two such translations of plays by Alexandre Shirvanzade — “For the Sake of Honor” (Badvi Hamar, 1976) and “Evil Spirit” (Char Voki, 1980) — were published by St. Vartan Press (the publishing imprint of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America) and later produced by New York’s Classic Theatre. The same press also published Parlakian’s version of Aramshot Babayan’s “Be Nice, I’m Dead” (Kna Meri, Ari Sirem) in 1990. Griffon House published his translation of Asadour’s “The Bride” in 1987.
As a dramatist, Parlakian wrote more than 30 plays. Several of these were produced in New York; others — like “Last of the Mohigians,” published in The Armenian Review in 1959 — appeared in various periodicals. In 1988, New York’s Classic Theatre presented his ethnic drama, “Grandma, Pray for Me,”which went on to win the Columbus: Countdown 1992 International Arts Award and was published in 1990.
In the last decade, Parlakian published three anthologies which will remain handy reference works for many years to come. Modern Armenian Drama (2001) was co-edited with Dr. S. Peter Cowe. Contemporary Armenian American Drama: An Anthology of Ancestral Voices (2004) and Notable Women in Modern Armenian Drama (2009) were both prepared by Parlakian alone.