It is more than a hundred years since the Armenian Genocide began in the first year of World War I. It is generally believed to have cost the lives of a million and a half people murdered over an eight-year period. The killings were brutal, savage, and the survivors, of course, were traumatized. The Allied forces, primarily British, fought against the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East, and Constantinople (now Istanbul) was occupied by the British through 1919. Mustafa Kemal (known as Ataturk), an Ottoman officer, “organized the Turkish Nationalist Movement in the drive to oust the Allies who had placed strategic portions of the country under occupation after its defeat” (Wikipedia). He also continued the purging of the Armenian people from Anatolia, the Asia Minor part of Turkey.
Aram Kouyoumdjian’s new play, Constantinople, tells the story, through the action of a few individuals, of the struggle to save the lives of women and children, who were enslaved, raped, and otherwise abused. Set in Constantinople in 1919 just before the British pulled out, Vehanoush (Jade Hykush), a writer who publishes a feminist magazine, works with a gun-toting young idealist, Roupen (Travis Laughlin) who, with his compatriots, sneaks into Anatolia to rescue women and children and bring them into the city. His efforts are grudgingly supported by a wealthy businessman, the gruff Parsegh (Jonathan Fishman), who clashes with Roupen again and again.
Roupen’s friend, Shenian (Robert Walters), a brilliant, consumptive poet who works with the British as a translator, is able to sneak important documents out of British Headquarters. A lovely young woman, Anna (Eva Abramian), rescued by Roupen, is heavy with child conceived by rape. She hates the thing within her and wants to die. Rounding out the characters is Zabelle (Kristin Mothersbaugh), a cheerful young woman who is the polar opposite of Anna. She wants to be a bobbed-hair flapper girl like the ones she sees in the magazine. An American Armenian (Luc Rosenthal) enters late. He has charm and compassion and is essentially a deus ex machina. A theatrical dénouement wraps up the story in a coda.
Constantinople is structured as a series of vignettes accompanied by original dramatic music composed by Ara Dabandjian and Ken Press. The music is quite good, but has the effect of slowing the pace of the action. The playwright, Mr. Kouyoumdjian, directs.
The creative team includes Alan Tollefson (Scenic Design), Henrik Mansourian (Lighting Design), and Allison Dillard(Costume Design). The production stage manager is Armineh Hovansian.
Produced by Vista Players, Constantinople continues through November 2 at Secret Rose Theatre, 11246 W Magnolia Blvd. in North Hollywood.