A CROOKED MAN by Richard Kalinoski, directed by Hrant Alianak (Alianak Theatre Productions). At the Theatre Centre (1087 Queen West). To March 2. $21-$25, stu/srs discounts. www.artsboxoffice.ca. Rating: NN
Dramatizing an atrocity like the 1915 Armenian genocide is a cultural imperative and an effective way to raise awareness of historical events, but as Richard Kalinoski’s A Crooked Man shows, the result isn’t always a great play.
Inspired by a true story using fictional characters, it unfolds through the eyes of Hagop Hagopian (Hrant Alianak), an 88-year-old Armenian grandfather who immigrated to the U.S. Needing to unburden himself of violent memories from his youth, Hagop summons his estranged 26-year-old American journalist grandson Alex (Garen Boyajian) and relates his horrific recollections.
Alex is stereotypically written as a second-generation American youth reluctant to embrace his roots. Boyajian offers an ineffectual counterpoint to Alianak’s adept triple-billing as performer, director and producer. His dubious reactions to Hagop’s alarming outbursts particularly disappoint at the play’s climax, after Alianak’s powerful delivery of a harrowing monologue.
Except for some brief (and, plot-wise, superfluous) interaction between Hagop and his daughter Anahid (Araxi Arslanian), the supporting actors only enter the scene to re-enact Hagop’s flashbacks.
Actor Carlo Essagian stands out, using accents and mannerisms to bring to life characters like Dr. Schmidt and the young Hagop.
The set by DroegeDesigns features copies of enlarged documents and Old World sepia family photos, providing a visually appealing backdrop. Unfortunately, a squeaky chair and shaky scaffolding prove distracting during some highly emotional moments.
A Crooked Man most engages the audience when it uses Hagop’s personal narrative to tell the stories of 1.5 million souls.
With the recent Armenian genocide debate in the U.S. House of Representatives provoking fury worldwide, this is essential and timely theatre in spite of its flaws.