‘Deported/a dream play’ Is Culmination of Long Creative Process


Elmas Boyajian (Joyce Van Dyke’s grandmother, called Victoria in the play) with her husband Harry (Haroutoun), who is the playwright’s grandfather, and daughter Rose, Providence. All three are characters in the play.

By Daphne Abeel
Special to the Mirror-Spectator

BOSTON — When “Deported/ a dream  play” by Joyce Van Dyke opens on March 8 at the Modern Theatre in Boston, it will mark the culmination of a five-year creative process for the playwright.

Said Van Dyke in a recent interview, “It’s very intense. I started working on the material in 2007. The first thing I did was to go to ALMA [the Armenian Library and Museum of America] and listen to interviews done with survivors of the Genocide. Many of them were done by Bethel Bilezikian Charkoudian.”

The play is the story of two women, Van Dyke’s grandmother, Elmas Sarajian Boyajian, and her close friend, Varter Deranian. Both women lived through the Genocide and lost their first families but managed to come to the United States to start new lives and to have new families. In the play, Van Dyke explores her own history as a descendant of Genocide survivors and interweaves the memories and dreams of the two women, whose friendship and history binds them.

“I had to do a lot of research,” said Van Dyke, “because my grandmother never talked about what had happened to her.”

The actual writing of the play was a true collaborative effort.

“We met as a group,” said Van Dyke, “with the director Judy Braha and the actors. We brought in all sorts of materials, oral histories from ALMA and photographs from Project SAVE. One of the original items we had was Martin Deranian’s mother’s passport.”

Braha challenged the actors to improvise lines on the basis of these primary sources.

“There are scenes and lines in the play that came directly out of the actors’ improvisations. Of course, I still had to sort it all out and actually write the play. It was a huge challenge, probably the most ambitious thing I’ve ever written,” said Van Dyke. “Much of the material is cast as dreams, but it is all based on documentary sources. The play gives voice to stories that have been silent for 100 years.”

Over the course of the past five years, the play has had several staged readings, notably one at the Calderwood Pavillion at the Boston Center for the Arts in May 2011, also one in 2009 at the New Repertory Theater in Watertown and a student production sponsored by Boston University’s School of Theater.

The staged readings lacked the dances and choreography of the Sayat Nova Dance Company, directed by Apo Ashjian, that are now an important part of the final production.

Said Van Dyke, in a written statement, “With the 100th anniversary of the Genocide approaching in 2015, we are in the right place and the right time. We hope to reach out to the widest possible public. to non-Armenians as well as Armenian audiences. Both Judy Braha and I have a long history of collaboration with Boston Playwrights’ Theatre, known for its award productions of new plays. We are thrilled to launch this play with a world premiere production by Boston Playwright’s Theatre in association with Suffolk University, at the beautiful, new-renovated Modern Theater in the heart of Boston’s theater district.”

Said Van Dyke, “Miraculously, the same actors have stayed with the production since the beginning, so they have a real intimacy with the play and all the material.”

The Modern Theater, at 545 Washington St., Boston, is a perfect venue for the play, said Van Dyke.

“It’s owned by Suffolk University and is a gem of a small theater with 185 seats. The whole neighborhood has been revitalized and there are lots of new restaurants and shops,” she noted.

Van Dyke credited Deranian with much of the inspiration for the play.

“He is really the godfather of this whole creation. I met him in 2003 at one of the performances of my play, “‘A Girl’s War.’ From him, I learned that his mother and my grandmother were close friends, deported together from the same city, Mezireh, in 1915. I am such a reviser of my work, I’m sure I’ll make more changes, but I feel very good about the script. Through a lifetime of research, Martin had acquired insider information about both women’s experiences, including things I’d never heard from my own grandmother. Once he began passing this material on to me — stories, letters, photos, artifacts — I couldn’t stop thinking about these two women and the way their story could give focus to this huge cultural cataclysm. He has been a huge moral support to me.”

Is the play likely to change even more after the upcoming production? Said Van Dyke, “A new play is almost always still evolving. Many things change when you see the complete work on the stage for the first time. I’m such a reviser of my work. I’m sure I’ll make changes, but I feel very good about the script going into this production.”

She added, “I want people to know that this is not a play about death. It’s about life, and how you go on. There is a lot of humor in it and a lot of hope.”

In fact, Van Dyke is inviting more collaborative feedback in a series of post show talks that will be held in different locales between March 10 and March 29.

“We  have a lot of people to thank for their assistance in making this happen, not just ALMA and Project SAVE but AIWA [Armenian International Women’s Association], of course Sayat Nova and NAASR [National Association for Armenian Studies and Research]. All of these organizations have been involved,” said Van Dyke.

Van Dyke’s next work will be about the historic production of Shakespeare’s “Othello,” starring Paul Robeson, which took place in 1942.

“It had a mixed cast and at first the producers couldn’t raise money for a Broadway production. When it finally opened, starring Robeson, Uta Hagen, Jose Ferrer and Margaret Webster, it knocked everyone out. I’ll be dealing with some of the reactions to a production with an integrated cast,” said Van Dyke.

“Deported/ a dream play” will run from March 8 to April 1, playing on Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at 8 p.m. with a matinee performance on Sundays at 2 p.m.

For tickets, visit www.bostonplaywrights.org.