TCA’s Mher Megerdchian Theatrical Group Performs Baronian’s ‘Shoghokorte’


By Aram Arkun
Mirror-Spectator Staff

The play’s director, Gagik Karapetian, shakes hands with Krikor Satamian.

ORADELL, N.J. — The Tekeyan Cultural Association (TCA)’s Mher Megerdchian Theatrical Group performed Hagop Baronian’s play “Shoghokorte” (“The Flatterer”) on November 20 and 21 at the Oradell Elementary School in New Jersey. The performances were dedicated to the well-known actor and director Krikor Satamian, whose 50th jubilee of involvement in Armenian theater was honored by the group afterwards at a banquet on the evening of November 21 at the Clinton Inn Hotel, in Tenafly.

“Shoghokorte” is a type of farce which on the surface concerns misplaced or unrequited love. Most of the characters pine for people who do not love them. While they self-absorbedly pursue their objects of affection, they create obstacles for a pair of young lovers, Dikran and Sofi (Sophie), who manage to overcome everything to become united by the end of the play. Author Hagop Baronian (1843-1891) never completed this play, which was instead done later by the satirist Yervant Odian.

The characters’ foibles reveal, in an exaggerated and comic fashion, some of the problems of 19th- entury Ottoman- Armenian society. Two older and presumably rich characters, a brother and sister named Tateh and Theresa, lord it over their servant Partem while attempting respectively to win over Sofi and Arshag, their much-younger objects of affection. Arshag, a poet, arrogantly considers himself superior to everyone else because of his art, though he is a buffoon without talent. Sofi and Dikran are afraid Hovsep, Sofi’s father, would not accept Dikran as a son-in-law because of his poverty, therefore they connive to convince Hovsep that there is a lawsuit against him which only Dikran, a lawyer, could solve. Arshag happens to visit Hovsep when the latter was told to expect this lawyer. This leads Hovsep to think that Arshag is the lawyer who can save him, and so he is ready to give his daughter in marriage to the latter. Meanwhile, throughout the play, Babig intervenes as the flatterer. He agrees with everybody, no matter what they say, and consequently encourages their conflicts with those around them.

This production of “Shoghokorte” was transformed into a semi-musical, with characters periodically dancing and singing to express their feelings. Concert pianist Oksanna Assirian, a graduate of the Tchaikovsky School of Music and the Yerevan Gomidas State Musical Conservatory, accompanied the singers and provided additional musical background.

Stepan Loussigian composed original music for the play, while Harout Barsoumian (Barsoumian Productions) prepared its soundtrack. The music shifted between Middle Eastern tunes suitable, for example, for a belly dancer, to European melodies.

Shemavon Atamian played Tateh fairly straightforwardly in a sympathetic fashion, allowing his foolishness to reveal itself through his words and actions. Tateh’s sister, Theresa, was played by Meline Khekoian as an overbearing and selfish woman who, like most of the characters, attempts to manipulate those around her to win over her object of affection. Their servant, Partem, ably played by Harout Takvorian, comically carried out their frequently contradictory commands. Harout Barsoumian revealed a versatile and droll talent as Arshag, with pratfalls, poetic excesses and exaggerated mannerisms.

Missak Boghossian appeared as Hovsep, a well-intentioned father who loves his daughter, but who also loves his wealth. Sofi was played by Talar Zokian, who danced enticingly in Tadeh’s dream at the start of the play. Michael Khekoian performed for the first time with the Mher Megerdchian Theatrical Group as the young Dikran. Khachig Sareminassian shined as the old servant, Kevork.

Harout Chatmajian brought to the play a manic energy and an annoyingly rasping and loud voice — appropriate for the character of Babig, as he comically pranced, jumped and expressively contorted himself while agreeing with each of the other characters’ often-foolish statements.

Director Gagik Karapetian managed to turn Baronian and Odian’s nineteenth-century play into a presentation suitable for today’s audiences. One of the actors declared to this journalist afterwards that Karapetian managed to make practices for the play enjoyable, and in fact the performance reflected the actors’ pleasure in their roles. The combination of music, dance, and physical comedy made the experience a gratifying one for people of all ages. Several hundred people were present at each of the two performances, including luminaries such as Armenia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Garen Nazarian.

The actors of the group, and in fact everybody involved with the production, are all volunteers, and their dedication to their craft is praiseworthy. There is a great value in keeping alive the works of the great Armenian writers of the past, and it is true that some of the social criticism embodied in Baronian’s characters remains valid for today’s society. Hopefully, the Megerdchian company can build on its fine reputation in the future, and find new contemporary plays critiquing and clarifying the problems of today’s diasporan Armenians. This will add to the relevance of Western Armenian for today’s Armenians.

Honoring Krikor Satamian

Krikor Satamian with Hagop Vartivarian and Sarkis Paskalian

The present production of Shoghokorte was dedicated to Krikor Satamian, who was in the audience at the second performance with his wife, Madlen, and young son, Levonig, and was invited to the stage afterwards to say a few words.

Satamian, a graduate of the American University of Beirut (AUB), studied film and theater in London and then returned to Lebanon as artistic director of the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU)’s Vahram Papazian Theater Company, as well as lecturer of drama at AUB. He immigrated to the US in 1976 and after directing shows off-Broadway, he joined the AGBU as its national artistic director. He directed and hosted the “Spotlight Armenians” television show in New York [at which this writer was briefly a gaffer one summer]. In 1988, he became the artistic director of the AGBU Ardavazt Theater Company in Los Angeles.

He has directed 75 plays and three operettas, as well as acted in 85 plays. Satamian has appeared in a variety of American television shows, including “Suddenly Susan,” “The Naked Truth,” “Team Knight Rider,” “Mad TV,” “Alias” and “24,” and movies such as “Pedestrians,” “Enemies of Laughter” and “Must Love Dogs,” as well as the following English-language movies with Armenian themes or characters: “After Freedom,” “Pomegranate,” “Assignment Berlin” and “Chickpeas.”

Satamian has translated 23 plays from English or French into Armenian for various performances, making him an experienced translator as well as an actor and director.

At the Clinton Inn Hotel, a full program of speakers reminisced about Satamian’s talents with a large audience of spectators. Greater New York TCA Chairman Hagop Vartivarian served as the master of ceremonies and briefly spoke about Satamian’s career in Armenian (the primary language of the evening).

As a youth, Vartivarian was directed by Satamian as a member of the Vahram Papazian Theater Company in Beirut. When the company went to perform for the first time in Armenia, Satamian woke the actors up early to view the majesty of Ararat. Ever since, Satamian and his companions remained attached to Ararat, and the people and country of Armenia, reborn at the side of this historic mountain.

Talar Sesetyan-Sarafian presented an English-language biography of Satamian, after which a number of actors who worked with or studied under Satamian spoke, including Dr. Annie Kalayjian, Seta Jebejian, Zivart Balikjian, Missak Boghossian, Harout Chatmajian and Nora Armani. Television director and actress Karine Kocharian, Beirut classmate Dr. Hagop (Jacques) Gulekjian, and Ara Babayan, chairman of the AGBU Ardavazt Theater Company in Los Angeles praised Satamian’s work. Babayan came especially from Los Angeles with his wife, Sonia, to participate in this tribute. Dr. Herand Markarian, a playwright, director, actor and founder of New York’s Hamazkayin Theater Group, emphasized the importance of Satamian’s career for the advancement of the use of Western Armenian in the Armenian Diaspora in addition to its purely dramaturgical value. Satamian’s translations alone are a great service to the Armenian language, and this aspect of his work has not received sufficient recognition.

Kevork Marashlian, executive secretary of the TCA, used to be the director of the AGBU school and offices in Argentina. Marashlian spoke about Satamian’s visit to Buenos Aires in 1981 and 1983, where he not only directed preparations for two Armenian plays in a short period of time, but also learned to understand and later imitate the unique Argentinian pronunciation of Armenian.

The program was not just a typical set of speeches, however. It began — and ended — with singing by some of the actors. Satamian, with his wife and son, was placed at an elevated table in the center of the hall. He joked that it looked like he was at a wedding, so he expected to be receiving envelopes with gifts.

After each speaker, Vartivarian, who periodically interjected his own anecdotes about the “old days” in Beirut with the guest of honor, ably encouraged Satamian to respond. The latter was ready not only with words of thanks and praise for the individual, but also with an unending set of hilarious stories and jokes about his experiences in Beirut, the US, Argentina and elsewhere. The audience could not stop laughing and applauding.

It should be added that among other things, Satamian revealed his modesty through his humor. Somewhat embarrassed by receiving high praise from so many speakers, he related the story about the funeral of a man who was praised so greatly by speakers that his wife in amazement asked their son to check the casket to see if it indeed was his father in it. Satamian wondered whether he himself was the correct object of so many compliments.

Carolin Melkonian and Harout Takvorian, both members of the AGBU Antranig Dance Ensemble, presented a brief story in the form of dance during a break from the talks, and the evening ended with dancing after noted choreographer Sarkis Paskalian presented on behalf of the TCA a plaque to Satamian in recognition of his 50 years of service.

The Mher Megerdchian Theatrical Group published on this occasion a 36-page booklet with a listing of the plays which Satamian directed, the roles in which he acted, the plays he translated into Armenians, the novels he adapted into plays, and the theater companies with which he worked. The cover of the booklet has a wonderful photograph of Satamian with his hands moving in motion in the air, seemingly mystically mesmerizing those watching him.

This commemorative booklet is worth keeping as a guide to Satamian’s work (which hopefully will continue for many more years) until the day that Satamian writes his memoirs. The booklet contains photographs of Satamian with notable figures and in various roles, letters of congratulations, excerpted evaluations of critics from various publications, and a 27-year-old interview by Vartivarian. In the interview, Satamian reflects on the importance of the Armenian language, the difficulties — and joys — of creating theater with non-professionals in various Armenian diasporan communities, and the situation in particular in Argentina, from which he had just returned after directing a Baronian play.

A number of the speakers at the tribute banquet pointed out how important it is to remember those individuals like Satamian who have dedicated their lives to Armenian culture. Tekeyan Cultural Association’s Mher Megerdchian Theatrical Group has established such a tradition, and plans to continue such efforts in forthcoming years.