Searing "Red Dog Howls" Tells Story of Armenian Genocide
Bruce Chadwick lectures on history and film at Rutgers University in New Jersey. He also teaches writing at New Jersey City University. He holds his PhD from Rutgers and was a former editor for the New York Daily News. Mr. Chadwick can be reached at email@example.com.
Red Dog Howls
New York Theater Workshop
79 W. Fourth St.
New York, N.Y.
Back in the 1970s, a reporter of Armenian descent who worked with me at the New York Daily News sat me down in a corner of the newsroom early one quiet summer afternoon and, in great detail, told me the story of the Turkish genocide against the people of Armenia during World War I, resulting in the deaths of nearly 1.5 million people. It was a tale of unrelenting horror. I had never heard it before and told him so.
“That’s the problem,” he said, scornfully. “This is one of the nightmares of world history and most people never heard of it.”
Much has changed in the past forty years, and the Armenian genocide, if eclipsed by the Holocaust in the popular imagination, is increasingly recognized. Red Dog Howls, a stirring new drama with a power-packed conclusion by Alexander Dinelaris, continues this trend.
In the play, Michael Kiriakos, a man in his mid-thirties, discovers letters sent by his late father to a mystery woman in New York. Michael, whose child is due any day, goes to see the old lady, who turns out to be his grandmother. She supports him through his wife Gabriella’s pregnancy and he spends most afternoons at her home. We know that he is of Armenian descent and guess that she lived there for years, based on her broken English.
As the story unfolds, the mystery begins to build. What was in the letters?
Finally, in the last twenty minutes of the play, we learn the secret the grandmother has been hiding all of these years and its revelation brings the play to an astounding, shocking, gut-wrenching conclusion.
The problem with the play, though, is that it moves interminably. Needless to say, this is all a set up for the grand finale, but playwright Dinelaris has to make the play a little more fast-paced. He could have trimmed fifteen minutes and made the play so much crisper.
Actor Alfredo Narcisco does a creditable job as Michael and he has a number of monologues to help carry the story along ,but veteran actress Kathleen Chalfant steals the show as ninety-one-year old grandmother Rose. She has a wonderful stage presence, and her persistence and quiet charm make Rose a very believable character and, in the finale, she just breaks your heart.
You learn much about the genocide against the Armenians in this play, a fine history lesson for those interested in how and why one people can not only brutally exterminate 1.5 million people but, for the most part, get away with it. The Turks shot hundreds of thousands of Armenian men, but, it has been charged, they also drowned thousands of children in lakes, sent hundreds of thousands on long death marches into the Syrian desert, and simply poisoned others.
It is a slow-moving and frustrating play, but it is one that teaches a strong, and sick, lesson.
PRODUCTION: Produced by the New York Theatre Workshop. Sets: Marsha Ginsberg; Costume: David Woolard; Lighting: Tyler Micoleau; Sound: Jane Shaw. The play is directed by Ken Rus Schmoll.
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