In its 2015 Spring Experimental Production, the Yale Dramatic Association will remember the centennial of the Armenian genocide with an original play that explores ethnic tensions and family secrets.
Written by Eric Sirakian ’15, “Ermeni” opens tomorrow night at the Yale Repertory Theatre. The play follows a Turkish student named Taner, who visits the home of his Armenian-American girlfriend Ani and embarks on a journey through time to an ancient city. Sirakian said that while the play has its historical foundation in the Armenian genocide, its central focus is on family and personal discovery.
“I’m Armenian, so [the genocide] is an issue that resonates very powerfully for me and my family and my being,” Sirakian said. “My personal experience has informed the whole family and characters that appear in the play.”
Set in October of 1970, the play begins when Ani brings her Turkish boyfriend Taner to a family dinner. Following a dispute over ethnic history, events suddenly escalate when Ani’s grandmother suffers a heart attack and is hospitalized. When Taner visits her in the hospital, he finds himself transported to the Turkish capital city of Diyarbakir and uncovers a family secret that has been buried for years.
Lucy Fleming ’16, managing editor of the Yale Daily News Magazine, who plays Ani in the show, said she thinks the most interesting part of staging an original student play has been the process of developing the characters for the first time ever and helping to shape them for future productions of the play. She noted that the awkward atmosphere of the “meet the family” dinner scene will be familiar to many of the audience members, adding that the performers naturally created such an environment in their first rehearsal because many of them had not met one another beforehand.
“The beautiful thing about this play is that it’s not about who was right or who is to blame; it’s about acknowledgement and eventually reconcilement,” Fleming said. “I got to see the shift in my character from the first draft of the script in October and it was cool to trace not just who she is but who she has been.
Having written the first draft of the play in fall 2013, Sirakian said the production is from an entirely new script that he drafted during the following summer. He added that final revisions to the play were made last month after the story had been read, edited and revised by his peers.
While the script largely draws from Sirakian’s own background, cast members also read a number of articles related to the time periods and settings featured in the play, in order to properly contextualize the performance. Eve Houghton ’17, the show’s dramaturg, said all the performers watched a documentary on the Armenian genocide and also read the testimonies of Arnold Toynbee and Henry Morgenthau.
Director Noam Shapiro ’15 said the play reaches beyond the topic of the Armenian genocide to grapple with issues such as friendship and reconciliation. Shapiro said that while working on an entirely new play allowed a range of creative freedom and imaginative space, the different settings between Armenia and the United States, over a span of 55 years, presented the greatest challenge.
“‘Ermeni’ straddles past and the present as it speaks of distant actions that still reverberate in our lives today,” Shapiro said. “In the centenary year of the Armenian Genocide, we hope that ‘Ermeni’ will contribute to a conversation about how to reconcile two narratives — those of love and hate, friend and foe — and, perhaps, find a way to move forward.”
On its last day of performances, the show will be preceded by a panel sponsored by the Yale Dramat and the Yale Genocide Studies Program. Featuring Yale history professor Jay Winter, University of Michigan professor Fatma Gocek and Armenian-American author Meline Toumami, the panel will discuss issues related to the Armenian Genocide.
In March 2010, Turkey withdrew its ambassador to the United States after a U.S. congressional committee passed a resolution formally recognizing the events of 1915 as an act of genocide.