ARTS | Daybreak gives Armenia its time in the sun
This new play about the Armenian Genocide takes an emotional trip through the pain of a generation
One hundred years ago an atrocity was perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire that would not receive a name for another three decades.
Somewhere in the range of 1.5 million Armenians were systematically rounded up and brutally murdered. Many more were displaced and forced to leave the land in which they had lived for generations. It wasn't until the 1940s that the word Genocide was coined, though many of the powers-that-be still refuse to acknowledge the events as such. Daybreak (currently running at the Beckett Theatre on Theatre Row) is a play that follows the stories of some that survived. One woman's dreams, memories, and nightmares of what occurred collide in a fracas that offers few concrete resolutions, but uncompromisingly shares the experience of a people left lost and harrowed.
Structurally, Daybreak is unconventional. It is more in line with expressionist, even Proustian practices at times. It follows a three-act structure, but nothing resembling the classic well-made play. It's first act is a chaotic pilgrimage through war crimes and the lives they tore asunder. The second sees discussion, factual recanting and the explicit sharing of oral histories, lending context to the jarring images of the first act. The third and final act seems to extrapolate on its two predecessors, presenting a world which is at once actual present day and the science-fiction future of the past. It marries didactic discussion with a tending to emotional scars. To borrow phraseology from Fritz Lang, the first act presents the heart, the second the head, and the third mediates the two.
In conversation with actress Tamara Sevunts, who plays the twin roles of Varter and Rose, she clarified some of the play's intention. "The question of genocide recognition, for me, is intrinsically tied to the Armenian identity. After having read the play for the first time, I asked myself whether it had to be." The piece deftly deals with this question, and refuses to present a simple, neat answer. An acknowledgment that one doesn't exist, as Sevunts explains: "As a dream play that moves fluidly and unexpectedly through time and space, [Daybreak] is forward-looking instead of accusatory. It asks how one can move past unacknowledged trauma, passed down from generation to generation, in the hopes of finding healing and a positive future."
Sevunts plays her role with a deft command of the ethereal, triggering and negotiating the tangled emotional psyche of the main character Victoria (Nicole Ansari). Ansari herself is a powerhouse, leading a blinking audience through the blinding horrors of human nature, and reassuring them that justice does exist, but not with ease, and never in quite the forms one expects. Michael Irvin Pollard is a brilliant curmudgeon, and lends his considerable expertise to various grouches and assorted others throughout the play. Robert Najarian embodies every bright young man in Victoria's ailing memory, and does so as if born to charm. Angela Pierce also excels in multiple roles, giving the play its principal voice outside of the Armenian. Melis Aker rounds out the cast providing a sympathetic voice for the modern Turk, and gracefully bestows humanity on the play's largely unseen antagonists.
"I can only hope that Armenian audiences will walk away considering where the community has come, how far it has come, and how far it has yet to go in dealing with a trauma that has been passed down from generation to generation," says Tamara Sevunts. One certainly hopes she's right. To the outsider the pain of a people is evident, and the myriad difficulties associated with closing the wound are laid plain and bare for the audience to see. While initially confusing (the lack of context in the first act is profoundly jarring), the play eventually informs its audience as to what it is they are seeing. Once that context exists, the first act becomes retroactively harrowing, and the rest of the play takes on a gripping weight that feeds the need to know more. Not a light evening at the theatre, but most definitely worth the price of admission.
Thomas Burns Scully is a PopDust contributor, and also an award-winning actor, playwright, and musician. In his spare time he writes and designs escape rooms. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
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