Toronto: The art of survival

Toronto Eye Weekly, Canada
April 1 2004

The art of survival


Written and performed by Araxi Arslanian. Directed by Rebecca Brown.
Presented by Alianak Theatre Productions. To Apr 4. Tue-Sat 8pm; Sun
mat 2:30pm. Tue-Thu $15; Fri-Sat $20; Sun PWYC. Artword Alternative
Theatre, 75 Portland. 416-504-7529.

If you’ve been diagnosed with a neurological disorder that can cause
lethal stress-induced hemorrhages, acting might not seem the most
obvious — or safest — of career choices. If Rogues of Urfa is
anything to go by, however, that choice was definitely the correct
one for Araxi Arslanian.

The 32-year-old writer-actor recently (and successfully) fended off
AVM — Arteriovenous Malformations — an uncommon brain condition
that caused her to have a number of life-threatening grand-mal
seizures throughout her twenties.

The illness’s impact on Arslanian’s behavior led to her being
expelled from Montreal’s National Theatre School and ostracized by
many of the actors she worked with. This one-woman show is a memoir
of that time, with Arslanian coming to terms with both her ill health
and her ill treatment by friends and family.

That would be enough for a single play, surely, but her own tale is
ambitiously juxtaposed with that of her grandfather, Hovannes. A
refugee from the 1915 Armenian genocide, Hovannes escaped from Turkey
to Canada when, after the ruling Turk majority massacred over a
million Armenian Christians.

It’s a testament to Arslanian’s skill as a playwright that she can
deal with such weighty issues — genocide, brain disease — without
over-simplifying solemnities or guilt-tripping worthiness. She also
provides a virtuoso performance, often humorous, with the actress
ventriloquizing a large cast of characters — from Hovannes’ comrades
and captors to the petty backstage bitches of theatrical Toronto
(actors can be jealous sorts, you may be surprised to learn).

Apart from the fairy tale Arslanian uses to frame the beginning and
end of the play — a woodenly metaphoric device I could have done
without — this is for the most part slick, tragic entertainment.