Review: ‘Deported /A Dream Play’ By Joyce Van Dyke Opens

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By Nancy Kalajian

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

BOSTON — Lace, quilts, veils and scarves — symbols of family memory — are key elements that tie characters and scenes together in “Deported/ a dream play,” by Joyce Van Dyke, now playing at the Modern Theatre at Suffolk University in the Theatre District. Making these detailed adornments by hand takes patience and a vision with hopes for more to come, yet hid- den actions and feelings might eventually be unmasked for those that are open to the experience. Threads of permanence in an imperfect world, these textiles tell tales and lessons in the dreams and hope of its characters. A veil may try to cover up damage and loss of dignity or life but its “knots can never be undone.”

Using many flashbacks to provide historical information, the compelling play was inspired by the true stories of two of its main characters — the playwright’s grandmother, Elmas Sarajian Boyajian who is called “Victoria” in the play, and her best friend, Varter Nazarian Deranian, the mother of Dr. H. Martin Deranian of Worcester (see

his story on these pages). With lively, convincing portrayals of three engaging central characters, Varter, Victoria and

Harry, the action zooms in on three settings: 1938 Providence, 1978 Los Angeles and a dream spot sometime after 2015, with the significance of this date coming more than 100 years after the Armenian Genocide.

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This play should be understood within its historical context. In the summer of 1915, during the Armenian Genocide, Varter and Elmas were among those deported with their children from the city of Mezireh, in what is now Elazig, Turkey. Elmas had three children. Varter had six, with another born to her while on the deportation route. All 10 children died during the deportation march. Their mothers eventually reached Aleppo, where they remained until 1920 and then boarded a ship together heading for the United States. In America, each woman remarried and had another child. Elmas and Varter continued their close friendship until Varter’s premature death in 1929. Elmas died in her sleep in 1977.

The playwright’s research into the women’s lives becomes clear when experiencing the play. From the gardens they had in the old country to the clothing they wore, this reviewer was able to get a sense of their environs and an essence into their lives.

The acting in “Deported/a dream play” was topnotch, with some of the actors playing more than one role. Ken Baltin briefly played a Gendarme and the Vali but will likely be most remembered for his terrific acting as Harry, Victoria’s husband. His expectation that an Armenian wife obeys with “silence and obedience” may seem old-fashioned in contemporary society. Though rough, impatient and trying to be in control of his wife, he came across in a more likeable manner when he shared some jokes and funny stories. The banter between Victoria and Harry, who were married for decades, seemed real, similar to others who have also been united in long-term relationships.

Harry, Victoria and Varter each seemed to be on journey through different stages of their lives, often intersecting with one another. As Victoria ages, we see the strength of her character and sense the pain she has endured. Played by Bobbie Steinbach, her Victoria is very convincing.

The intensity and fast pace of the production was maintained because there was no intermission. However, audiences may benefit from a break in the play to allow for reflection and conversation on what was being seen and felt. When experiencing plays that integrate spiritual life with reality, it is important to be attentive to the action on the stage to fully appreciate the intent of the playwright. After all, this is a “dream” play.

Judy Braha, the award-winning director, did a fine job directing “Deported/a dream play. Using the six “dreamers” or dancers as stagehands made for an attention-grabbing technique as they changed the scenes and moods in the play. The sets were simple but effective.

On a few occasions, cast members moved through the audience and onto the stage and this made for a somewhat immersive experience as the audience felt more linked to the action. Armenian words, phrases and expressions interspersed here and there were easily understood by Armenians, making an instant connection with what seemed like a mostly-Armenian audience on the night I viewed the play.

The struggles and ghosts that affect Genocide survivors and their descendants seem unresolved whether in the past or in the future but the play left viewers with a glimpse of potential hope for gathering together those interested in reconciliation in the future.

With expressive acting and the power of the narrative, theatre-goers will likely want to experience “Deported/a dream play”with performances being held until April 1.

Not to be missed in the theatre lobby is a beautifully mounted Project SAVE exhibit. Many of the black and white photographs are connected to the family members portrayed in the play. When you first enter the lobby, well-written historical information is displayed in a beautiful format on a huge panel. Catching the eyes of audience members before and after the play, it showed the interest of those in attendance to gather as much information on the history of the Armenians as they could.

There are going to be several events preceding the play (without extra fee).

• March 17, 7-7:30 p.m., “Educating Upstanders: What can we learn from the past about creating a more positive future?” With Adam Strom, Director of Content, Innovation and Research at Facing History and Ourselves, and author of Facing History’s Crimes Against Humanity and Civilization: The Genocide of the Armenians

• March 23, 7-7:30 p.m., “Coming to terms with your past: how do countries, and individuals, respond to genocide?” With Prof. Nir Eisikovits, director, Graduate Program in Ethics and Public Policy, Suffolk University, and the Rev. Pamela L. Werntz, rector of Emmanuel Church, Boston. Moderated by Kate Snodgrass, artistic director, Boston Playwrights’ Theatre.

• March 25, post-show talk with the playwright and director

• March 29, post-show talk: “One by One: Dialogue among Descendants of Genocide Survivors, Perpetrators, Bystanders and Resisters,” with Dr. Wilma Busse, director of the Counseling Center, Suffolk University. Moderated by Paula Parnagian, president, World View Services.

• March 30, 7-7:30 p.m., “The next generation: Turks and Armenians talk about the future,” with: AySe Deniz Lokmanoglu, master’s candidate in Middle Eastern Studies, Harvard University; Tsoleen Sarian; Nareg Seferian, master’s degree candidate in politics and international affairs, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy; Ahmet Selim Tekelioglu, PhD candidate in political science, Boston University. Moderated by Cynthia Cohen, PhD, director of the program in Peacebuilding and the Arts, Brandeis University.

The Modern Theatre is located at 525 Washington St. Performances begin at 8 p.m.

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