Zabel Yessayan

MRT Premieres Reading of Play about Armenian Writer, Activist, and Feminist Zabel Yessayan


LOWELL, Mass. — Merrimack Repertory Theatre (MRT) presents the world premiere reading of “Zabel in Exile” by R.N. Sandberg, a play about the extraordinary life of Armenian writer, political activist, and feminist Zabel Yessayan, at 4 p.m. on Sunday, August 12, at the Nancy L. Donahue Theatre, 50 E. Merrimack St.

Megan Sandberg-Zakian

Megan Sandberg-Zakian, who won the IRNE Award for Best Director for “The Royale” at MRT last season, directs.

Zabel Yessayan harnessed the power of the pen to fight for equality and peace and often found herself at odds with the authorities in the tumultuous world of early 20th-century Europe. The play takes place while she is interrogated by the Soviets for espionage during Stalin’s purges. As she fights to survive, Yessayan must come to terms with the whole of her life and the impact of her writings and actions.

Playwright Sandberg said, “Yessayan’s writing always stirs the senses and, frequently, tears at one’s heart. Her life was an inspiration for facing bullying, brutality, and dislocation with unwavering compassion.” Sandberg’s works have appeared at American Repertory Theatre, McCarter Theatre, and The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

The play is partly based on Yessayan’s book In the Ruins, which is her eyewitness testimony of the 1909 massacres of Armenians in Adana, Turkey, and her memoir, The Gardens of Silihdar. Other works include her novels My Soul in Exile and In the Waiting Room, which confront the isolation and alienation faced by women.

A co-founder of Maia Directors, a consulting group for artists and organizations engaging with stories from the Middle East and beyond, director Sandberg-Zakian said, “Though she witnessed some of the worst atrocities of the 20th century throughout her life, she continued to think and write with fierce compassion, not only for her own people, but for all people.”

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As a recipient of the Princess Grace Theater Award, Sandberg-Zakian served as director-in-residence for the MRT 2017/18 Season. In addition to “The Royale,” she directed Eleanor Burgess’ Chill at MRT. Other recent credits include Nathan Alan Davis’ “Nat Turner in Jerusalem” at New York Theatre Workshop and Dominique Morisseau’s “Skeleton Crew” at The Huntington Theatre Company.

Celebrating its 40th Anniversary Season, MRT, the only professional theatre in the Merrimack Valley, is an integral part of Lowell’s identity as the cultural heart of the region. MRT’s mission is to share theatrical stories of human understanding that reflect and engage our community. Under the leadership of Artistic Director Sean Daniels and Executive Director Bonnie J. Butkas, the company is known as a leader in producing new plays, especially world and regional premieres.

RSVP for the free reading at MRT presents Judith Saryan’s commission of “Zabel in Exile” in partnership with the Armenian International Women’s Association, the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research, and the Armenian Museum of America.


Topics: Play
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