Reviewed by Becca Kidwell
(Boston, MA) An American rose does not smell as sweet as an Armenian rose; that’s what Joyce Van Dyke tells us. The Armenian-American culture is extremely prevalent in the Metro Boston area, particularly in Watertown where the Armenian Library and Museum is located, and has been trying to get the world to recognize the genocide in Armenia from 1915, when there were several massacres. “Armenian men were rounded up and killed. Then the women and children were ‘deported’ on a death march through the desert,” Van Dyke writes in the program. And as the hundredth anniversary approaches, the genocide is still denied by Turkey, but Van Dyke writes of the hope of recognition and reconciliation in the near future.
Van Dyke seamlessly weaves reality with a dream world as Victoria (Bobbie Steinbach), an Armenian refugee, strives for a new life in America while she is haunted by her memories. Victoria has already received a college degree, has started to work as an actress, and has gotten remarried. She is visited by her friend Varter (Jeanine Kane) who died many years ago. Varter seems to have had the perfect life with a husband that loved her, beauty, and many kids–until the deportation happened; her husband is killed and her children died as they marched through the desert. Somehow, she was helped or kidnapped by a Turk, but that detail is kind of fuzzy as Victoria will not allow even the possibility that a Turk could have helped her friend or that a Turk could be anything other than a brutish animal.
In opposition to her husband, Harry (Ken Baltin), Victoria invites a young student Shoshana (Liz Hayes) who is recording an oral history of the Armenian people, in particular the genocide. Victoria has decided to do this so that Varter’s story will be told and will not be forgotten. During this process, Varter’s story not only comes out, but also Harry’s story of his former wife and children and Victoria’s own story of deportation, which brings up the guilt of losing her three children and her best friend.
The final section takes place sometime in the future after 2015. Victoria, now dead or 130 years old, finds herself in a theatre and confronted by a Turk named Cem (Mark Cohen) who is preparing the theatre for an Armenian-Turkish conference of reconciliation. Both think they must be in a nightmare as Victoria cannot imagine a Turks and Armenians ever reconciling. Cem is scared as she threatens him with a gun. The connections become clear as Varter arrives at the core of the story bringing past and present together for the hope of mending the old with the new.
All of the performances by Bobbie Steinbach, Jeanine Kane, Marya Lowry, Robert Najarian, Mark Cohen, Ken Baltin, an ensemble of dancers, and Yeghishe Manucharyan provide a warm, palpable experience that sweeps the audience up into the dream world and makes them want to be part of the change. Judy Braha, working with the twisting narrative and twisting set by Jon Savage, smoothly patches together a quilt of memories, culture, and hope.
Without saccharin, Deported: a dream play, brings a vivid loving portrait of the Armenian people and their struggles while offering up pleas of recognition and healing between the Armenians and the Turks. Van Dyke and Braha lay a path of rose petals some fresh, some crushed waiting to spread their fragrant message to the world.