Photos by Michelle Hanzelova


1. Leslie Ayvazian and John Perrin Flynn

 

Rogue Machine, which earned the Best Season Ovation Award for 2017, is known for pushing the theatrical envelope with edgy, often hard-hitting shows. These hot potato topics range from Western colonialism in Africa in Lorraine Hansberry’s Les Blancs to racism at home in Mexican Day, Dutch Masters and One Night in Miami to contemporary anti-fascism in Daytona to psycho-sexual angst in bled for the household truth and Cock, et al.

But with its world premiere of 100 Aprils Rogue Machine is tackling its heaviest topic yet: Genocide. Playwright/co-star Leslie Ayvazian's one-acter takes a deep dive into the 1915 ethnic cleansing of Armenians and the trans-generational PTSD that is passed down to its characters in a 1982 psychiatric ward of a hospital. Well, it’s not exactly a musical comedy - in dramatizing the mass murder of Armenians 100 Aprils is unrelentingly depressing.

 

For most of the 80 minute or so play John Perrin Flynn (John) is confined to a hospital bed, attended by his wife Beatrice (Ayvazian), daughter Arlene (Rachel Sorsa), Nurse (Janet Song, whose screen credits include Modern Family) and Ahmet (Robertson Dean). Dean actually plays a dual role - under the influence of his meds and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, in a drug-induced state John’s mind wanders back and forth in time. Apparently, Ahmet - who is a doctor - is of Turkish ethnicity, and John imagines him to be one of the Turks he saw carrying out unspeakable crimes against humanity during the Armenian Genocide when John was a five year old eyewitness to the mass slaughter.

 

John is also a doctor, but in his present state he is clearly unable to fulfill that Biblical edict: “Physician, heal thyself.” Sorsa’s Arlene is a sexually repressed librarian, a repository of the trans-generational PTSD passed down to her that seems to deny her personal happiness. On the one hand, Ayvazian’s choice of the daughter’s profession is trite, as female librarians are stereotyped as old maids and matrons, notably Marion the Librarian in The Music Man. But in another way, the playwright’s choice is quite clever, because as the daughter of an Armenian genocide survivor and of an Armenian mother (I don’t believe Aprils specifies whether or not Beatrice witnessed the carnage herself), Arlene is - like a librarian - the keeper and preserver of the records and archives, in this case of unforgettable inhumane cruelty. And the name “Arlene,” BTW, means to “pledge.”

 

Arlene can never forget and in my own life I’ve met members of groups earmarked for persecution who seemed to me to perpetuate a trauma, passed down from one generation to another. I’ve seen this in survivors of the Holocaust and Hollywood Blacklist, hysterias and horrors that have marred and scarred their tortured psyches.

 

Having said all this, while this may be the stuff of great drama, Aprils is no fun to watch onstage. It’s certainly well-acted, with Michael Arabian (who helmed a memorable Waiting for Godot a while back at the Mark Taper Forum) skillfully directing Aprils’ ensemble. Rogue Machine’s co-founder and artistic director Flynn, who told me this was the first time in 30 years he was acting (other than as a stand-in), proves his talents extend beyond directing. But infrequent attempts to lighten the mood don’t dispel the doom and gloom emanating from the stage. These are no Aprils fools and the drama is extremely depressing.

 

That’s not to say it is a bad (or, for that matter, good) play, and I am not saying there’s no place on the stage for works such as Aprils. But can depression and other dark subject matter be presented on the live stage in a way that doesn’t bum the audience out? The superb production of Long Day Journey Into Night at the Wallis Annenberg is a case in point. O'Neill's epic focuses on one family (although it may have universal themes about the human condition, husbands and wives, parents and offspring), et al, while Aprils seeks to unravel the collective saga of grief and despair of an entire people. Surely the stage must address the distressing parts of life, as well as be a source of amusement and entertainment. Occasionally it’s all of this - along with enlightening.

 

Narine, a member of the audience born and raised in Armenia when it was part of the Soviet Union, thought that tales of the Genocide against her people should be “sad” in tone, rather than “angry.” She was chagrined by a scene wherein Beatrice and Arlene assault the Turkish Ahmet (which, BTW, is also filled with frisson, especially vis-à-vis the daughter, who seems to be sexually frustrated - there is no indication in the dialogue that the 30-something Arlene currently or has ever had a romantic partner).

 

Be that as it may, aside from mass murder itself, what may enrage and obsess survivors and descendents is the denial that these horrible human rights abuses even occurred in the first place. As it is said in Death of a Salesman about Willy Loman in another context, “Attention must be paid!” to historic wrongs and horrors. And following acknowledgement, there must be an effort to right the wrong.

 

This tragedy about genocide is for more adventurous ticket buyers with a yen for the serious, who don’t mind being challenged and even depressed by a tough-to-take drama, and for those may even go to the theater seeking some sort of emotional catharsis and release. But if you prefer romantic comedies and musicals, this ain’t exactly No, No, Nanette. It’s more like: “Oy vey, Ayvazian!” OK, you’ve been warned.

100 Aprils runs Saturdays and Mondays at 8:30 p.m., Sundays at 3:00 p.m. through July 16, 2018 (no performances on Monday, June 25). Pay-What–You-Can on Monday, June 11 ($5 minimum starts 7:00 p.m. at box office only). Rogue Machine is located in The Met, 1089 N. Oxford Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90029. Reservations: (855)585-5185 or www.roguemachinetheatre.com    

 

L.A.-based reviewer/historian Ed Rampell is co-presenting “Marx @ 200: The Marxist Movie Series” (https://www.gofundme.com/marx-200-the-marxist-movie-serie). The third edition of “The Hawaii Movie and Television Book” co-authored by Rampell is now available at: https://mutualpublishing.com/product/the-hawaii-movie-and-television-book/ .

 

Photos by Michelle Hanzelova

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