NEW YORK — Among the many concerns Armenian parents around the Diaspora face, there is one universal question that stands out: Will our children marry an Armenian? Will they be able to continue our Armenian heritage?
The play, “Where is Your Groom?” (Pesad Oor Eh), written, produced and co-directed by Taleen Babayan, raises these questions of identity, assimilation and generational divides in a comedic manner.
“Where Is Your Groom?” will debut at The Players Theatre in New York’s Greenwich Village on Saturday, October 26. A special guest performance will be made by international musician Robert Chilingirian.
Taking place in the present day but emulating the voices of older generations, the story revolves around an Armenian-American family who is concerned that their daughter, Lara, has not found a suitable Armenian “pesa” (groom). The patriarch of the family, Koko, enlists his wife, Siroun, son Saro and mother-in law, known endearingly as “Medz Mayrig,” to find young Armenian men for Lara to meet. What ensues is the introduction of humorous characters as potential suitors who serve as caricatures of all different “types” of Armenians — from Armenia to America to Iran to Turkey and to Lebanon.
“It doesn’t matter where in the diaspora we’re from or what cultural nuances we grew up with,” said Babayan, 28, who is the producer of a Brooklyn-based news show. “At our core, we are Armenian and we shoulder the same responsibilities, traditions and old-word expectations regardless if we’re born in New York, Beirut or Istanbul.”
The play struck a chord with young Armenian-Americans in the New Jersey area and a cast and crew of over 20 enthusiastic individuals have come together to bring the play to life. While many are newcomers to the stage, they only needed their cultural ties to serve as motivation to be involved in the performance.
“From the first moment I heard about the play, I was immediately interested,” said Katherine Sabbagh, 21, a student at Ramapo College who plays the role of Siroun. “Being with Armenians and expressing my personality through the arts is important to me.”
“When I heard about this play, I instantly knew I wanted to be involved no matter the time commitment,” said Zarig Baghdadlian, 23, who works at the HB Group in New York, and who is playing the role of Lara. “I’m so happy to be part of this very relatable play by a talented writer and I’m hoping we’ll take this play to other cities with Armenian communities as well.”
The play has not only given young Armenian-Americans the opportunity to meet fellow Armenians and connect with their culture in a new way, it’s also given those with an interest in acting a chance to try it out in a friendly atmosphere.
“I’ve always wanted to act, so this was a good opportunity to really get into it amongst Armenian peers,” said Jiro Khorozian, 25, who works in real estate and who is playing the role of Jiro the Jeweler. “Maybe this play will inspire me to take up acting.”
“When I read the script, I was immediately drawn to the character of the father Koko and I knew this was something I wanted to commit my limited free time to,” said Aris Hamparsumian, who works in the Risk Assurance practice at PricewaterhouseCoopers. “Acting has always been a passion of mine, but I never had a chance to pursue it until now.”
A proponent of the arts as a vehicle to move the Armenian culture forward is singer Chilingirian, who will make a special appearance during the performance . Chilingirian himself has modernized Armenian music, making it more accessible to the younger generation of Armenians.
“I feel that it is very easy for the young generation to adapt to the music of the country they are living in, and eventually forget about their Armenian roots, culture and music all together,” said Chilingirian, a Los Angeles-based singer. “It’s important to give them something that is attractive to their ears so they will continue to listen to our music.”
He is also firm believer in the importance of Armenians pursuing the arts.
“Armenian youth must always keep creating art,” said Chilingirian. “Through their music, theater, paintings, they can familiarize the world with our culture, history and language.”
Forming the cast of crew of “Where Is Your Groom?” has been one step in that direction. The group consistently attends weekly rehearsals on Sunday mornings at the Tekeyan Cultural Center in Englewood, kindly provided by the Tekeyan Cultural Association.
“Being back in the theater is one thing, but being part of an Armenian play is a whole new and exciting experience that I’m thrilled to be part of,” said Baghdadlian, 22, a project assistant at East West Institute who is serving as assistant director and stage manager of “Where Is Your Groom?” She was involved in theater at her alma mater, George Washington University, and has brought her experience to the group.
“The beauty of a project like this is bringing Armenian youth together,” said Babayan. “I am so proud of our cast and crew who believe in this play and who are translating their love of being Armenian to the stage.”
“Where Is Your Groom?” will be performed on October 26, at 8 p.m. at The Players Theatre, 115 MacDougal St. For tickets, go to http://www.theplayerstheatre.com.
A portion of the proceeds from the play will be donated to Friends of Warm Hearth, an Armenia-based non-profit organization that provides group homes for Armenian orphans with mental illnesses and disabilities, who have outgrown the orphanages.
For more information about “Where Is Your Groom?” visit www.whereisyourgroomtheplay.com.