“Red Dog Howls”is a taste of the kind of gripping drama that the Armenian genocide ought to produce.
By focusing on the impact of how the horror of it continues into the lives of the grandchildren of survivors the survivors, we get some sense of the enormity of the event. Christopher Isherwood of the New York Times finds genocide tedious for words, he hardly paid attention. if he had, he would know that the grandson was not “astonished”. If Isherwood’s annoyance at having to sit through a play about genocide persuades his readers not to see this play, it is their loss, because this is theater worth watching.
There was no enormity except gas chambers that was beyond the capacity of the Turks; they even thought of horrors that the Germans didn’t. And the first 80 minutes of this 90 minute play are gripping. With Isherwood, I sat through the last ten minutes dry-eyed. But I had teared up repeatedly even though, unlike much of the audience, nothing in the descriptions of the genocide drew from me a shocked gasp. This is a story we have not heard before, no matter how much we know about genocide. Alfredo Narciso, Florencia Lozano deserved every bit of the enthusiastic reception they got from the audience of New York theater regulars, while Katherine Chalfant’s performance was riveting.
And yet, there is an oddness.
The play opens with a statement of truth:
“There are sins from which we can never be absolved. Sins so terrible, so unimaginable… ”
The Young Turk government that ordered and organized the genocide, and the Turks and Kurds who carried it out committed crimes so terrible, so unimaginable, that there can be no absolution.
But this truth is not spoken of the perpetrators. It is spoken to describe the guilt of one of the victims.
Playwright Alxander Dinelaris’ moral compass is unaccountably unbalanced. This woman committed no sin. A just God knows who were the sinners in this tale, and who the victims.
Focusing on the impact of the crime on the survivors is powerful, but it leaves the meaning of the extermination of a people unexamined. The perpetrators cannot be absolved or the dead revived, but we can continue to hope for work from the hand of this playwright or others adequate to memorialize them.