Personal? Political? Phooey: Rogues of Urfa

The Globe and Mail, Canada
March 27 2004

Personal? Political? Phooey

Conflating a private medical crisis and the Armenian genocide, a
playwright’s performance is manipulative and presumptuous

Saturday, March 27, 2004 – Page R18
Rogues of Urfa
Written and performed
by Araxi Arslanian
Directed by Rebecca Brown
At Artword Alternative Theatre
In Toronto

Rating: *

Finally, something that the Turks and the Armenians can hate together
and find equally offensive. Joy to the world.

With her Rogues of Urfa, playwright and actor Araxi Arslanian may
have accomplished a feat that has eluded diplomatic efforts for
nearly a century; but she does so through a series of assumptions
that take her work out of the realm of theatre and into that of the
personal vendetta.

In this classic work of “victim art” — who says the eighties are
over? — the emphasis is solely and unequivocally placed on the
victim. The art — be it the writing, the performance, or the
emotional impact of a combination of the two — has been pushed to
the margins of this theatrical equation. Politically, it may seem
justified. Artistically, it’s worthless.

Rogues (which opened Wednesday in a production by Alianak Theatre) is
a monologue, written and performed by Arslanian, which connects two
stories that take place at the end, and the beginning, of the 20th
century. The first is an account of how the performer on-stage — and
there’s nothing to suggest she is anyone but Arslanian — has
survived a congenital brain disorder, and relates her subsequent
suffering at the hands of unsympathetic doctors, students and fellow

The second strand relates to the Armenian genocide at the hands of
the Turks in 1915, and is told through the story of her grandfather,
a young soldier from the doomed Urfa, “city of prophets.”

Both stories get equal stage time, and the implication is that the
annihilation of many can prove inspiring to the sick one. The two
stories are linked in the last two minutes in a line credited to the
performer’s father, and which counts as one of the most horrifically
manipulative and presumptuous theatrical devices I’ve ever
encountered: that the blood clot in the actor is the same blood of
Armenian victims, the blood of survivors.

Does this mean that atrocities perpetrated by the Turks are morally
equivalent to the nastiness of fellow actors or unsympathetic
university administrators? Is she invoking the memories of the dead
to keep their stories alive and away from historical distortions and
denials? Or is she simply seeking self-validation?

The work’s political and personal (and they are equated here not
because one is the other but because the personal trumps the
political) scheme could still have worked with a more sophisticated
approach to historical framing, ambiguity and critical distance that,
for example, make Atom Egoyan’s Ararat so much more fascinating as a
work of art.

But, like Mel Gibson, Arslanian is so certain in her convictions that
her writing has no need for such trifles as conflicts or
counterpoints. Everybody, from Turks to actors, are villains and
presented in broad stereotypes that kiss the notion of reconciliation
and forgiveness goodbye. More significantly they simplify, and
therefore render insignificant, the actions and responsibility of all

Perhaps it’s too much to ask for subtlety from an actor who made her
mark on-stage in a number of raucous performances. But even if her
range seems to stretch from loud to louder, she has always exhibited
an undeniable stage presence. Sadly, it’s Arslanian the avenger who
is centre-stage here, and it’s not a convincing or smart sight.
Rebecca Brown’s direction is basic and clichéd, which, at least,
perfectly fits with the modus operandi of the monologue.

Rogues of Urfa continues at Toronto’s Artword Alternative Theatre
until April 4 (416-504-7529).