Praise in Paris: “Mels” and Duryan find success in repeat performance

Yerevan native playwright Narek Duryan’s play “Thank You, God” is enjoying a repeat performance in Paris, at the De Jazet Theater.

The play was so successful during a month-long run in June, that the board of directors of the 700-seat theater in Bastille Square invited Duryan back, where he is again the featured attraction this month.

“Stepping into this theater is a big success, for this theater is among the ten most important and authoritative theaters in Paris,” says actor and director Duryan, son of the popular conductor Ohan Duryan. “If we take into account that 480 performances are played in Paris every day, 30 percent of which have a life of only a day, than one can imagine how difficult it is to attract attention.”

The character created and embodied by Duryan carries elements of self-biography, of a man named Mels who has passed through a socialist regime and is enjoying a European democracy trying to realize what freedom is.

The hero’s name is comprised from the quartet of socialist stalwarts – Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin.

Fed up with the ways of the Soviet Union, Mels crosses the state border and finds home in the capital of democratic France. His bright hopes fade, but he seems to succeed in everything (although his marriage to a French woman turns out to not be a happy one).

“In this performance I study the question of personal freedom and what is freedom,” the play’s creator says. “It is a relative phenomenon. When was I more free, when I could not travel, for I was in a prison called Soviet country, but traveled around the world in my mind, or now, when I can go wherever I want, but I don’t have money? This is also a kind of imprisonment, a jail.”

Gradually developing the plot Mels tells about the way he has passed; he was born in Armenia, had his military service in Siberia, opening Siberia to the audience in a humorous manner: “It’s strange but I remember with nostalgia our Soviet routine life, we had bread and cheese, we were happy, it was a prison but we rebelled and were drawn to Siberia. Which one is better? In dictatorship you cannot speak for everyone listens to what you say, and in democracy speak as much as you wish, no one listens to you.”

During “independence”, Mels ends up selling his valued possessions in Yerevan’s vernisage bazaar; he puts his father’s military coat for sale, medals he has won at the expense of his blood: “Everything is shown by means of humor and anecdotes, but it hurts, for he sells a whole history,” says Duryan.

The author purposefully presents his hero in three societies – in dictatorship, in wild capitalism and democracy. And the alterations of the human type according to the type of the society become obvious when Mels says to himself in total freedom: “I saw dictatorship and freedom and now I understand a simple thing: freedom is measured by the largeness of one’s cage”.

The French press and the cultural programs at the TF1 TV Company have covered the Armenian’s performance. Elle a Paris writes: “With a great portion of sense of humor and deep observation Narek Duryan opened the closed curtains of the Soviets before us.” And the Paris Capitale says the performance “created a big revolution in the De Jazet Theater for French audience”.

The artist, who has lived in Paris for the past 25 years, says he wonders when Armenia itself will open up the borders of its own freedom and cage together with Mels.

Audiences in Paris have been about 20 percent Diaspora. (Duryan hopes to bring the performance to Armenia, but doesn't know when.)

The Armenian audience is acquainted with Duryan’s art through several performances – the musical “Don Quixote” by Servantes-Bulgakov, “Operation Nemesis” historical-documentary performance staged together with “Bohem” theatrical group in the Theater of Young Audience.

The “Bohem” that has a rich experience of 15 years is the only professional, stable, constantly theatrical group acting abroad, who has never interrupted its activities and has traveled to European countries, the USA, Canada, Egypt and oriental countries for many times.

“Although it is 25 years already that I live in Paris, I always considered myself a man from Yerevan, I haven’t changed even my language; for me the acknowledgement of the audience here (Yerevan) is very important and I think I will get it soon,” says Duryan.