LOS ANGELES — His Armenian identity was a paramount force in writer William Saroyan’s life, his stories and pages filled with characters, dialogues and themes that reflected his cultural values, mores and history. For the first time ever, Saroyan’s never-before-seen plays revolving around the Armenian national identity were staged for the public in a world premiere production by Elly Award-winning playwright and director Aram Kouyoumdjian on the occasion of the Pulitzer Prize winner’s 110th birthday at the Los Angeles Central Library’s Taper Auditorium on Saturday, September 15.
Spirited scenes from “The Armenian Play (or Opera),” “Home to Hayastan,” and “Ouzenk Choozenk Hai Yenk (Like It or Not, We’re Armenians),” were performed by Vista Players, a non-profit theater company committed to staging contemporary works of social relevance. The feature cast of five performers, including Jade Hykush, Will Maizel, Bailey Sorrel and Robert Walters, portrayed 30 dynamic characters throughout a brisk 75-minute performance.
Each scene was interwoven through narration that shed further light on the writer’s life and the themes he expressed through his plays, including immigrant life in the Diaspora, the Armenian Genocide and the idea of repatriation.
“The selection process and how to select and order the scenes presented were probably the biggest challenges of this whole project,” said Kouyoumdjian, in an exclusive interview. “I wanted the overall production to have a through-line and for there to be a progression in terms of the audience’s emotional experience.”
Kouyoumdjian, who was granted special permission by Stanford University (where Saroyan’s manuscripts are housed) to stage the excerpts from these plays, struck a balance between Saroyan’s dramaturgy and lighter comic touches throughout the performance.
“This is supposed to be a journey for the audience,” said Kouyoumdjian. “Our dialogue with these works is also important and how we are engaging on stage with these pieces.”