Although the Armenian Genocide occurred a century ago, descendants of victims are still grappling with the consequences of this historic calamity and what the hundred year mark means to them and to the future of the Armenian nation and diaspora. These issues are explored in the play, “From Sacred Wrath,” which will be performed on April 18 and April 19 at the Davenport Theatre in New York City, the Armenian Weekly reports.
The story centers around the Armenian-American Khatchadourian family, who shares mixed emotions as the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide approaches: A grandmother is unable to share her story of survival, as she is still traumatized by her escape; a young woman forges ties with a Turkish journalist, much to the chagrin of her patriotic father; and a brother vows to fight for the future of his homeland by enlisting in the Nagorno-Karabagh Defense Army.
This timely play, written and directed by Taleen Babayan, reflects the various outlooks and struggles facing Armenians around the world today, as the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide approaches. The themes of denial, nationalism, reconciliation, and human rights abuses are explored and come to life on stage through the talented cast of diverse and professional actors, including Karnig Nercessian, playing the role of Hovsep, the patriotic patriarch of the family; Constance Cooper as Aghavni, an Armenian Genocide survivor; Ani Djirdjirian as Areni, a history teacher who has a more modern outlook of reconciliation; Raffi Wartanian as Soghomon, an American-born Armenian who feels a desire to return to his homeland; Cihangir Duman as Cemal, a Turkish journalist who is unable to call the Armenian massacres a genocide; Jamie Alana as Ayesha, a Darfur Genocide survivor; and Haig Hovnanian as Alex, a childhood friend of the family’s.
“Soghomon’s burning patriotism is something that exists within me and has evolved over the years,” said Wartanian, a New York City-based performer, writer, and musician who received his theater training with John Astin, Krista Smith, Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, and the New York Neo Futurists. “Soghomon gives me an opportunity to embrace a passion and certainty for something I question. He allows me to stop questioning, and to believe once again in something greater than myself in the form of nation and identity. Yet at the core of his struggle is a universal journey of self-discovery by coming to terms with love for family. Soghomon is a complicated ball of contradictions ripe for exploration and embrace on the stage.”
Wartanian, who as a musician has performed throughout Armenia and the United States as well as in Beirut and Prague, spent a year living in Armenia as a Fulbright Scholar. He brings his own personal experiences to the role as an Armenian born in Baltimore to grandparents who fled the Armenian Genocide and parents who left Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War.
“I have witnessed and chewed on a whirlwind of political, socio-economic, and existential vantage points,” said Wartanian, a graduate of Johns Hopkins University and Columbia University. “Central to these has been a passion for social justice. I hold strong convictions about identity, culture, and history and will infuse that same passion into the content justifying Soghomon’s passions.”
Cooper, a performing artist and composer/improviser, plays the role of Aghavni, the matriarch of the Khatchadourian family, who cannot bear to tell her story of escape from the Armenian Genocide in 1915, when 1.5 million Armenians were massacred by the Young Turks, and which to this day goes unacknowledged by the Turkish government.
“This play, drawing on Armenian-American experiences of trauma and diaspora, nevertheless brings us in touch with international dilemmas that are with us, at this moment of the 21st century, more than ever,” said Cooper, a native New Yorker, who holds a Ph.D. in composition from Princeton University. “In addition, what draws me to ‘From Sacred Wrath’ is its excellent writing: its sober and undeviating devotion to its topic.”
In order to prepare for her role, Cooper found herself withdrawing from confrontations with the lesser traumas of her private life. “In my own attempts to flee difficulties, I find the verities of Aghavni’s long silence and ways to use my voice and body for her statements about the uselessness of communication,” said Cooper, who has invented improvisation structures for groups such as the electro-acoustic trio First Avenue Ensemble at Merkin Hall, and who was awarded the Gustav Mahler prize for a double concerto with improvising violinist and cellist.
She is also working on making a surreal video about hostages taking shelter in her body and to whom she is pitiless. “No doubt the characterization required by this role of victimizer will help me characterize, by contrast, the victimhood of Aghavni.”
Babayan, who was awarded the Armenian Youth Foundation grant and the Mabel Fenner Scholarship of Holy Cross Armenian Church to help stage this production, wrote the play with the intention of presenting it not only to the Armenian community but to a more encompassing audience.
“My aim is to bring the Armenian Genocide to the forefront while incorporating the tragic event into the greater theme of human rights abuses that unfortunately continue to this day around the world,” said Babayan, who appreciates the support from those organizations that see the vision of staging a relevant and meaningful play such as this.
“‘From Sacred Wrath’ is a production that has been 100 years in the making—a powerful and contemporary story of the Armenian Genocide and its continued impact on the diaspora today,” said Stepan Kanarian, chairman of the Armenian Youth Foundation. “Given the Armenian Youth Foundation’s charter of supporting efforts and organizations of educational, cultural, athletic, and camping significance, we felt it our responsibility to help ensure that this story was told.”
Babayan’s recent play, “Where Is Your Groom? (Pesad Oor Eh),” a comedic story that follows an Armenian-American family’s desire to preserve their ethnic ties while living in the diaspora, has been performed for enthusiastic audience members in six Armenian communities across the country since its off-Broadway debut in 2013. As the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide approached, Babayan, who as a journalist has interviewed Armenian Genocide survivors and who grew up hearing about her grandparents’ escape from the genocide, felt that her most worthy contribution to the cause would be through the arts.
“We as Armenians know about the Armenian Genocide. It has, to an extent, become our narrative. But what is instrumental as we commemorate the 100th anniversary is to ensure that in another 100 years, the genocide will not become a mere footnote in our history,” said Babayan. “My goal was to write a story that is thought provoking and to spur discussion not just in our community, but beyond.”
“From Sacred Wrath” will be performed on Sat., April 18 at 7 p.m. and Sun., April 19 at 3 p.m. at the Davenport Theatre, located at 354 West 45th St. in New York City. The play is in English with some Armenian lines, which will be translated in the commemorative play booklet. Run time is 1 hour and 30 minutes, including one intermission. Limited seating. For tickets and more information, visit www.fromsacredwrath.ticketbud.com.