When playwright Aram Kouyoumdjian explored the situation of Armenians in 1919, he couldn’t help but notice that history might be repeating itself: “Now, a century later, we’re still contending with the same struggles as the play’s protagonists…displacement, migration, the demonization of minorities, populism, demagoguery, and women’s rights…CONSTANTINOPLE isn’t an historical play; it’s a contemporary play set within an historical context.” The play opens in post-World War I, only a few years after the Armenian genocide. CONSTANTINOPLE follows the lives of Armenians in Istanbul struggling to gain their former lands and political autonomy in the wake of the partitioning of the Ottoman Empire, the Allied occupation, and the spread of Soviet land grabbing.
CONSTANTINOPLE takes place in Turkey’s capital at the cusp of Armenian’s hope that the victorious WW II allies will offer them freedom and their fear that Ataturk’s rising power in a nationalistic Turkey will lead to their eventual destruction as a nation. Feminist journalist Vehanoush (Jade Hykush) and guerilla fighter Roupen (Travis Laughlin) have teamed up to send missions over the border tasked with recovering women and children abducted during the genocide – all with the financial backing of rich but sometimes reluctant capitalist Parsegh (Jonathan Fishman).
Into their fold falls former harem captive and rape victim Anna (Eva Abramian), very pregnant and full of loathing for herself and her unborn child. Meanwhile, Vehanoush’s young disciple Zabelle (Kristin Mothersbaugh) attempts to turn herself into an emancipated European woman who will bring a “modern” cosmopolitan look to her less urbane Armenian society. All the while observed by Armenian poet Shenian (Robert Walters) as he deals with his terminal condition and the possibly terminal condition of his country. CONSTANTINOPLE offers its principals compassion – but also the power to fight back against all odds. These are not victims surrendering to their fate but soldiers doggedly fighting a war which they may not win.
CONSTANTINOPLE is a collection of moments in their lives expertly woven together by gifted director Aram Kouyoumdjian (who also wrote the piece) and a talented cast focused on one goal – letting the world know about Armenian history and how it impacts us to this day. To this end, author Kouyoumdjian creatively ends the tale by bringing it into the present moment. Alan Tollefson’s scenic design is spare but reminiscent of the stark lives of these freedom fighters. Henrik Mansourian’s lighting is clever, allowing for stage business to go on even when the house lights dim – thus allowing a seamless transition from one scene to the next. Allison Dillard’s costumes are timely and fit the tale. Original music by Ara Dabandjian and Ken Press hugs the cast within its melodic arms. CONSTANTINOPLE is a fascinating peek at a slice of history which many American’s probably know very little about. History buffs will really get into this tale. At the same time, this is a very personal story focused on people (some of whom may be patterned on real-life counterparts). Fans of character study and relationships will also find CONSTANTINOPLE an entertaining and fulfilling journey.
CONSTANTINOPLE runs through November 2, 2019, with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and at 3 p.m. on Sundays. The Secret Rose Theatre is located at 11246 W. Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood, CA 91601. Tickets range from $20 to $40. For information and reservations, call 818-538-4911 or go online.