Turkish Troupe Breathes New Life into Baronian’s ‘Eastern Dentist’ in Gyumri


By Gerald Papasian

GYUMRI, Armenia — On May 14, at Gyumri’s Yeia Ekmekchyan Benjamin Hall, and on May 16 in Yerevan, at the Hrachya Ghaplanian Dramatic Theater, the Turkish Niluferi Municipal Theater company of Bursa presented Haqop Baronian’s comedy “Eastern Dentist,” translated into Turkish.

The performance originally was created in Istanbul in 2012, underscoring the essential role of Armenians in the foundation of Turkish theater.

I had heard about the production’s success of and seen their articles and program notes devoted to the innovating genius of Armenian theatrical figures such as Hagop Vartovian, Mardiros Mnakian, Vahram Papazian and especially Hagop Baronian.

I was impatient to see the Turkish translation of this work which, by the way, is the first time a work by an Armenian author was performed by a Turkish state company, especially since by a pleasant coincidence, I am preparing the same play for the opening of the autumn season in Yerevan, at the Henrik Malian Theater.

I do not know how ads and publicity were carried out in Armenia for such a historical event, but it was a pity to see the almost total absence of Armenian theatrical personalities in the house.

A pity, because the production, besides being a Baronian play, was a serious theatrical achievement for the pleasure of all and would have inspired and stimulated our stage directors, actors, particularly costumes and makeup artists. As for Baronian, this performance was a lesson to those, who still think that our 19th century satirist is “old-fashioned, cheap, exploited thousands of times and unworthy to be staged anymore.”

Our Western neighbors gloriously proved that Baronian’s play could not only be modernized, but was also, like works of Moliere or other classics,  eternal, and  offers visionary stage directors the opportunity to constantly create  new ideas, new interpretations.

The company of about 15 performers (plus four musicians), all professionally trained and moving with brilliant physical agility, were dressed in stylized circus-like or Comedia dell’ Arte style costumes, in tasteful white and light beige tones often reminiscent of beautiful Venetian carnival outfits.

Despite the deliberately grotesque, slapstick approach, the humor was of high taste, spiced with swinging songs and dances, and led with a boisterous pace and energy, without a minute of respite during the more than two hour show.

Even those audience members who had come with some political (understandable) prejudices could not help but enjoy themselves. Pleasure was also evident pouring out of the performers, and that is indeed the secret of success.

The lead role of Taparnigos was performed in a virtuoso manner by the company’s artistic director and the production’s stage director, Engin Alkane, who was also the author of the songs’ witty lyrics.

It is worth mentioning the delightful, funny and naughty erotic aspect of the presentation, astonishingly daring, considering the traditional social difficulties nowadays in Turkey.

After the show, director Alkane made a speech saying that it was a dream for them to perform in the brilliant satirist’s homeland. He added that theater artists are of the same flesh and blood and that in Shakespeare’s words, we’re all “fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means … ” and we all struggle against the same forms of political violence, lies and atrocities of tyrants.

In the complex relationship today of the Genocide and Artsakh issues, the Turkish artists thus came to break their own historic taboos through art.

But this evening was not just a political message; rhe victory was above all artistic. They offered us a wonderful tribute to the Armenian genius.

To our own compatriots’ skepticism about Baronian and our classical heritage in general, one is tempted to say, “Ladies and gentlemen … time to wake up!”

The program was sponsored by the Anadolu Kultur Foundation and the European Union thanks to efforts led by journalist Raffi Hermon Araks.