Not worthy theatre, sad to relate: “Rogues Of Urfa”

Toronto Star, Canada
March 25 2004

Not worthy theatre, sad to relate


Rogues Of Urfa
Written and performed by Araxi Arslanian. Directed by Rebecca Brown.
Until April 4 at Artword Alternative Theatre, 75 Portland St.

Where does therapy end and theatre begin?

That’s the most provocative question raised by Rogues Of Urfa, which
opened last night at the Artword Alternative Theatre.

Araxi Arslanian has suffered all her life from arterio-venous
malformation, a vascular condition that in her case produces massive
seizures. This has caused her both tremendous physical and
psychological pain, and greatly impeded her efforts to establish
herself as an actress.

As the personal story she told colleague Robert Crew in last week’s
Star indicates, her efforts to overcome her difficulties are gripping
and worthy of our attention.

But that doesn’t make them a piece of theatre. Especially not in the
format she has chosen for this initially perplexing and ultimately
infuriating work.

Arslanian has – in effect – written two monologues that are
intertwined during the show’s 70 minutes. They come together at the
last instant in a way you can either call satisfying or contrived,
depending on your state of mind.

The first is Arslanian’s autobiography, from age 5 onward. “I have a
sandbox inside my head” is the initial sentence we hear and it sets
the tone for what is to follow. Pseudo-poetic verbiage alternates
with undigested chunks of personal history.

We experience her humiliation at the National Theatre School, among
other places, and listen while she recreates the horror of having
cast members from a show discuss her seizures in a most scathing

But these sequences wind up being chilling in quite the wrong way. We
are embarrassed not by the woman’s plight, but by the obstinate way
she insists in pursuing her grudges. Everyone who treated her badly
is pilloried; no one is spared (except her father, briefly, at the

There is a sense of scores being settled that is acutely unpleasant.
The phrase “letting go” has obviously never occurred to Arslanian.
What makes this even worse is her use of the story of the Armenian
holocaust (1915-18) as a counterpoint. Besides being impossible to
follow most of the time (her characterizations all sound the same),
this episode tells us nothing new or insightful about that horrible
period of history.

Her writing here is also full of dime-store lyricism (“cinnamon
sands” and “emerald lakes” abound) and failed attempts at pathos.
Unless you’re one of those people who believe that simply saying
“genocide” makes for worthy drama, you will probably feel the same.

Matters are not helped by the direction of Rebecca Brown. The shifts
between time are indicated by Arslanian moving convulsively to the
ersatz Middle Eastern music of Iain Miller. And Brown has not
assisted Arslanian in defining characters, shaping a performance or
showing any finesse.

The assumption throughout seems to have been: “This is the truth;
that is enough.”

Yes, truth is where theatre begins, but unless you also apply
thought, craft and art, what you wind up with is … well, Rogues Of