Baron Garbis

Finally! I made it to Baron Garbis, Vahe Berberian’s latest (fourth, if I’m not mistaken) play. I had seen the third of his plays, but Vahe’s been theatrically silent, putting out comedy, novels, and art instead. I managed to catch his Pink Elephant in translation when Aram Kouyoumjian’s troupe performed it in Sacramento. So after an 18-year hiatus from the Armenian stage, I was eager to go, but constant conflicts delayed me by three months!
I’m really glad its run was extended. So, if you live in the LA area and still haven’t seen it, you’ve got the weekends of April 12-13, and 19-20. It’ll also be playing in San Francisco Friday-Saturday May 23-24. Other venues are in the mill. Don’t miss it.
Baron Garbis’ tale is that of a passing era. It captures vividly the lifestyle contradictions inherent in a family of three generations, starting with the immediate post-Genocide one. Add to this a move from Lebanon to LA, this particular family’s history, and the differing priorities inherent to age, and you’ve got a multi-dimensional matrix of tension. The three-man cast really made the story ring true to life. The passing of an era is starkly etched by the play; a passage we’re scarce addressing as a community. I don’t want to say more, for fear my big mouth will spoil some of the twists and turns that surprise the audience.
But beyond the value presented by a fresh appearance on, of, for, and by the Diasporan’stage, Baron Garbis also points up some very serious issues confronting our communities. In the program book, Vahe describes the extreme difficulty with which a 20-ish year old young man was found who could properly read Armenian. The pool of talent was such that non-actors had to be brought into the picture.
The LA area has Armenian schools, K-12. Not enough of them, but they do exist. Plus, hundreds of people are growing up in our ghettos– Glendale/Burbank, Hollywood, North Hollywood. Yet obviously, a scant few can read Armenian well enough to act in a play. And this is just Western Armenian. Eastern Armenian, though only in its Soviet-spelling version, may have a little more time in the Diaspora because of its continued use by our twin Republics and the constant outflow of people from our homeland.
So where does this leave us linguistically? I never have, not will I ever, argue that knowing Armenian, speaking, reading, and/or writing, is essential to being Armenian, particularly in light of the difficulties attendant to it in the Diaspora. Yet, our language is an integral part of our national being and nature. It does have intrinsic value. We also seem to forget that the only reason our language, or at least its Western dialect, is threatened is, once again, the Genocide. To let it die is to expand the range of ruin imposed on us by Turkey. While it’s not incumbent on any individual to know Armenian, it is our collective duty to see to its perpetuation and growth.
But maybe there’s hope, ironic in its source, on the world’s stage. Over the last two and a half months, the LATimes has had four pieces addressing the issue of losing languages. Two came in the context of obituaries of people working to preserve languages– the Islenos (a hybrid of bygone Spanish forms and Cajun French) and Eyak. Interestingly, the latter was by a woman who was the last full-blooded Eyak (and Alaskan nation), just like the last Kweimei I’d written of eighteen and a half years ago. Another article described, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, an effort to speak only Gaelic in Ireland and the odd, often antagonistic responses that elicited. The final piece described efforts to perpetuate Ojibwe, one of only three Native American languages currently spoken in the U.S. and Canada expected to survive to the middle of this century.
These losses are catastrophic. Languages are not just mechanisms of communication. They represent whole modes of thought, wisdom, perspectives on our planet, and sources of words and lyrics that enrich our lives.
Perhaps it’s time for the linguists and linguaphiles among us to start networking with those of other nations confronting our predicament and advocating and legislating protections and means of perpetuation for the threatened languages still extant in the already decimated pool of human tongues. Anyone ready to lead that charge?


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