Parody With Purpose: “Uprising” is unusual treatment of sacred subject

Parodist Vartan Petrosyan’s latest performance is filled with irony and routinely evokes laughter.

It is, of course, what a dramatic parody should do. The subject of his latest drama “Uprising”, is, however, far from typical laughing matter. The play, that has been running for several weeks in Yerevan’s Stanlislavky Russian Theater is about the Armenian Genocide.

Weaving past tragedy with modern reality and often presenting divergent ideas on opposite sides of the same stage, Petrosyan’s two-act drama more often brings laughter than the tears that are synonymous with the Armenians’ saddest hour.

At one moment Petrosyan portrays the typically fat-bellied and apathetic Armenian men or thick-necked oligarchs, then, in a stage that is changing, shifts to the divine Komitas and his sacred music that becomes a background for scenes of massacre.

“I have chosen the title ‘Uprising’, despite the fact that usually our works relating to the topic of genocide carry titles of mourning and tears and it couldn’t be another way: but it is high time we seriously evaluate what is the genocide to us. Sorrow unites, clarifies, and we should have an uprising with that very power,” explains Petrosyan.

The performance begins with Petrosyan’s French friends Nathalie Lefevre and Lionel Emery asking in hesitation: “What is the Armenian Question?”

“Well, now try to explain to a carefree European the Armenian Question…” says the actor and presents the tragedy of the last century as synthesized in cinema, theater, stage dance, and songs by Komitas.

On one side of the dark stage sings Komitas who has witnessed the massacre, and on the other, accompanied by the stages of the massacres and their joyous melodies, the Europeans carelessly dance. Their melodies get stronger, deafening the gentle melodies by Komitas – symbolizing the indifference of the world and the sounds of a suppressed nation calling for help of the world given away to dis-interest.

Through his play, the actor bitterly mocks and satirizes the huge portion of the Armenian society who enjoys Turkish and Arabic moughams (a type of Muslim music): “those very songs the Turks danced under while slaughtering and skinning Armenian babies”.

“Vartan speaks about things that all of us see, but do not confess to ourselves; he seems to be disturbing our wounds and at the same time soothing them,” says theater critic Amalia Hovhannisyan.

“I am shocked with the funny scene of the quarrel between a Jew and a Diaspora Armenian on who has been the first and the most slaughtered,” says spectator Mkhitar Kirakosyan, 52. “While laughing, you cry deep in your heart when you think that Jews were at least smothered by means of gas, their children wouldn’t see it, and Armenians were killed in front of their children and the children who survived would return to those scenes throughout their lives.”

The many faceted actor appears at times as an ignorant fool, who repeats time after time: “Well, that genocide has not happened to us, it has happened to our grandfathers”; at another time he appears as an oligarch, a Jew, and even a Turkish pasha.

“This performance is not a history handbook, this is a cry to make our people wake up from the numbness of indifference, and remember about the Genocide not only on April 24,” says Petrosyan. “ . . . to start to turn the pages of history, to bring up generations with national spirit, always remembering the past and continue learning from it.”

Besides the 15 Armenian actors in “Uprising” there are also three French actors, who represent Europe and who share the sorrow of the Genocide as people and stand side by side to Armenians.

“Art is a powerful tool to make the world recognize its mistakes,” says actress Lefevre. “Even without understanding the language I feel the spirit of the performance. You should be stronger without forgetting your past, for you know better than anyone the price of life and freedom.”

Performances of “Uprising” are expected to continue through October.