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"THE PERILS OF POLITENESS LIVE ON" By BIANCA BAGATOURIAN Starring: Tom Mardirosian (from HBO's OZ) Nadia Mahdi Jeff Biehl Herb Rubens Directed by Sarah Benson Music composed by John Baboian Armenian News Network / Groong April 3, 2006 By Bedros Afeyan "The Perils of Politeness Live On" by Bianca Bagatourian is loosely based on the famous Armenian, satirical, 120 year old set of thematically linked anecdotes by Hagop Baronian titled "Kaghakavaroutian Vnassneruh", which roughly translates to Losses or Setbacks Caused by Politeness, or better yet, What You Lose By Being Too Polite When the World Around You Is Not. Ms. Bagatourian, inspired by some of the vignettes that make up Baronian's "Losses Due to Politeness," has written a play of her own inviting Hagop Baronian to be one of its characters in every other scene where the various vignettes are being set up and tied together. Her play is being staged in NY at present. The performance dates are April 2, 3 and 7, as part of a festival entitled: "The Storyteller in Theater." The new plays being shown are by Bianca Bagatourian, Laura Jones-Katz, Sibyl Kempson and Kristen Kosmas all past and present students of the life-time Obie winning playwright, Mac Wellman. Tom Mardirosian (from HBO's OZ) stars, and the music was composed by John Baboian, a guitarist from Boston. This review is based on the text of the play. If these performances are successful, there is a strong chance the play might be picked up for a commercial production off Broadway. So if you attend and like the play, say so! First of all, by way of disclosure, this reviewer must declare that he is a big fan of Hagop Baronian. Having read them with pleasure and been part of productions of his plays at school while growing up, I always found Baronian's sharp tongue, his ability to observe, pounce and ridicule the rich and pompous, to be naturally and sympathetically appealing. So realizing that his ideas and words are coming alive after 120 years, and in the US at that, is a thrill and a welcomed development! May all our unsung heroes live large again, such as Baronian, who never saw ANY of his plays produced during his lifetime, who was persecuted by the Ottoman authorities as well as the Armenian ruling classes alike, subjected to censorship, forced to write allegorical plays with animals replacing humans as heroes lest he be jailed, forced to live in such abject poverty, without the ability to pay his debts, that he died an old man, at the age of 48, in 1891, of tuberculosis or consumption. The laughter he left behind, the admonitions, warnings, social satire, the "fool! know thyself!" warnings, the idealistic outrage he felt and voiced at the waste, abuse and callousness of the ruling and rich classes, almost mirror the exact opposite depths and the sequence of tragedies through which he lived in his personal life. He was a man possessed. Hagop Baronian has no equal in Armenian literature. Not Odian, not even William Saroyan can come close to his satirical sketching abilities, his dedication and his unique incorruptibility of vision and unsentimental voice. In an almost messianic sense, he lived to become a vehicle for social change. It is lucky that he was spared the witnessing of the Armenian genocide which surely would have killed him that first night of April 24, 1915, when all intellectuals and community leaders, were rounded up by Turkish Authorities and exiled from Constantinople (where he lived), only to be disposed of in remote locations. His premature death spared him that indignity 24 years later. Imagine him in a caravan with the very people he teased and criticized, being marched to their collective death. The conversation would have been strained indeed. He would have howled at the Turkish soldiers and gendarmes, congratulating them at having jailed septuagenerian satirists and alleged seditionists who, unarmed, and at such an advanced age, apparently pose enough of a threat to the empire to deserve being hung from a rope in a public square. What civilization!, he would have cried out. What discipline and dedication to the Ottoman warrior pride. And then, he would have turned his attention to the Armenian national leaders assembled and say, so see? All your money, all your seats in the Parliament, all your appeasement of the authorities did you no good. You are here to be killed despite your accommodation of the young Turks, your fascination with them and your blind self-deception of what they thought of you and what you represented to them all along... Moving along, you can read more about Hagop Baronian in English, in A Reference Guide to Modern Armenian Literature, 1500-1920, compiled with an introduction by Kevork Bardakjian, p121-124, Wayne State University Press, Detroit, 2000, or in Modern Armenian Drama, an Anthology, p61-128, edited by N. Parlakian and S. P. Cowe, Columbia University Press, New York, 2000. Ms. Bagatourian brings us a few of Baronian's vignettes by interlacing them with confessional or expositional (yet to stay on point, also witty) songs all written to address the folly of politeness, especially when it is met with brutes and unpolished individuals who bring the whole house of hypocritical cards down... There is now a back story, or perhaps a forward story to Baronian's observations, in this case. A father sits at the dinner table with his daughter, her odar (foreigner, ie non Armenian) boyfriend, and as luck would have it, Hagop Baronian as well. They start talking. The father has a thick, old world accent, but strangely enough, the 170 year old Hagop (who doesn't look a day over 48) does not! The father complains, he pontificates black and white world views which the daughter does not share. He constantly turns to Hagop for endorsement and encouragement, but does not always get it. Meanwhile the father is very rude towards Berry the boyfriend, calling him names, playing with his name, ignoring him, etc. Now we know he is being defensive (underneath all this aggression) with respect to his daughter and he is very afraid of new rules and new ways being introduced into his surroundings. So elements of contemporary social tension is there. Then Baronian tells another one of his anecdotes, the same actors play in these scenes, including Hagop, and this is culminated in a song and a post mortem word or two. This is the construction of Ms. Bagatourian's play. Much relies on the flawless (not over the top) execution of the songs and the acting skills on display for the dual or multiple roles the four actors must undertake. The images and words in the vignettes are Baronian's (in translation), the rest is all Bianca. In fact, by (writing and) exposing the impoliteness of the father who otherwise spends the first scene being categorical about how much politeness means to him, is itself a Baronian construction. The central premise in all such stories is the parable of Jesus which instructs you to remove the large branch from your eye before noticing the twig in the eye of the person you are criticizing. These well-woven examples of how mean we can be to each other while speaking of our politeness and our proper upbringing never stops from being a universal human predicament, it seems. Politeness is much easier to give lip service to, to assume or believe about oneself while atrocities are being committed under all that chatter and self praise. It is amusing or discouraging perhaps to see just how utterly contemporary all the observations of Baronian channeled through Bagatourian are. When we live in a time where trumped up charges lead us to war, such as in Iraq, when entire nations are mistreated, bombed, neglected, allowed to be subjected to genocide, such as in Darfour, Sudan, then just where is our polite discourse and benevolent society? See Baronian and Bagatourian and they will make you laugh with side splitting humor. Then on the drive home (ok, cab ride, in NY) think of what we could do to make his comments become strange and irrelevant some day. Alas, they are very much in need and quite poignantly relevant today. Resurrecting a giant like Baronian is no small feat! In fact, not being afraid of Mr. Baronian's art and talent is itself a worthy achievement. Look out for this new voice among us; Ms. Bianca Bagatourian has also taken on building a web presence for Armenian theatre and cinema arts called the Armenian Dramatic Arts Alliance or ADAA. You can find it on the web at: http://www.armeniandrama.org/. You will be glad that you did. "The Perils of Politeness Live On" by Bianca Bagatourian plays at the Classic Stage Company in New York on: Sunday April 2, 5:00 pm Monday April 3, 8:30 pm Friday April 7, 10:00 pm Classic Stage Company is at: 136 East 13th Street, New York, NY 10003 (Between 3rd & 4th Avenues, just southeast of Union Sq.) -- Dr. Bedros Afeyan is a theoretical physicist who works and lives in the Bay area with his wife, Marine. He writes in Armenian and in English and also paints and sculpts. Samples of his work can be found on the web by clicking on his personal web pages at: http://188.8.131.52/