A Girl’s War
A play by Joyce Van Dyke
Directed by Torange Yeghiazarian
At the Thick House, San Francisco, through March 8, 2009
Any play with Iranian-born Bella (Ramezan-nia) Warda in the cast necessarily draws special attention to the acting. A cautious playwright creates a solid enough work to make her play’s ideas as immune to the quality of acting as possible, and playwright Joyce Van Dyke has done that in A Girl’s War.
But powerful actors like Warda dig their spurs deep into the work, making it bolt like a trained animal shocked back into its wild nature. It is noticeable how much the other actors enjoy sharing their scenes with Warda as Arashaluis, the fiercely patriotic Armenian mother. To survive the intensity that this actress brings to the stage, the other actors courageously counter with their own show of force.
Actess Ana Bayat who plays the lead role as the beautiful fashion model Anna, is on the frontlines in Warda’s assault. At two different levels, as it turn out: acting style as well as character conflict. Anna is Arshaluis’ politically naïve daughter pressured by her mother to take up arms against the enemy Azeri “Turks.”
Here’s a scene where Warda and Bayat lock horns. Arsahaluis is ladling yogurt into Anna’s mouth, and with each spoonful the mother feeds a bit of Armenian history into the child, barely letting Bayat finish her line before Warda’s next spoonful arrives.
“Keep up, step to it, more passion,” Warda seems to demand.
“Leave me alone; I want peace, I want control,” Bayat seems to say.
Which is exactly the dynamic between the characters in the play.
Anna has turned her back on her country’s fight for land and identity. Moving to the United States, she has embraced political individualism. Arshaluis on the other hand is driven by nationalistic passion, to the point of sacrificing logic.
To paraphrase Arshaluis, she says
“This is not yogurt; it is madzoon. Yogurt is Turkish, madzoon is Armenian.”
“But it’s made exactly the same way,” her daughter protests in between spoonfuls.”
“No,” Arshaluis insists. “madzoon!”
Another character whose acting goes into high gear in Warda’s presense is the Afghan born Zarif Kabier Sadiqi as the Azeri deserter Ilyas Alizadeh. To be fair, Arshaluis holding an automatic weapon at him does give Sadiqi an excuse to act larger. But his best scene with Warda is not the gun battle scene; it is scene when Arshaluis remembers him as a child in the village before the ethnic war. She embraces him with nostalgic warmth, bringing out jam and cookies for the reunion. Of course she suspects him. Has he really deserted, or is he a spy? Ilyas in turn is ambivalent, but for the moment both emote as though they lived in the world they asked for, and not in the world they got.
It wouldn’t have worked to write the ferocious Arshaluis into the scene where Anna and Ilyas get naked and make love, but the scene could have used some of Arshalius’ explicit passion. When Ilyas shows Anna his penis, I couldn’t read in her face whether she was witness to an erection or something less. Ilyas seemed to appraise himself highly, but Anna was clinical, her embarrassment perhaps too well covered up. In her attempt to be true to her character she may have sacrificed audience communication. Or maybe she didn’t wish to compete with the symbolic content of the scene. She does not just sleep with the enemy; she baptizes the Muslim under a Christian cross before she lies with him.
For the playwright Van Dyke and Iranian-born director Yeghiazarian balancing Anna and Arshaluis must have taken some thought. As the daughter Anna has no convictions, the story is really about the mother Arshaluis.
On the other hand, the American audience is with Anna, not Arshaluis. So Anna gets the most stage time, and Arshaluis gets the best lines and the stronger actor. Anna/Bayat can preach peace and a reserved acting style, while Arshaluis/Warda can worry about apathy taking people out of the fight, and whether a generation that refuses passion may also refuse action?
This link includes where, when, and more info on the play.