The world premiere production of “William Saroyan: The Unpublished Plays in Performance” will have its final engagement at UCLA on Sunday, October 28 at 7 p.m.
Presented by the Richard Hovannisian Endowed Chair in Modern Armenian History and co-sponsored by the UCLA Center for Near Eastern Studies, the production will be performed at the Jan Popper Theater of the university’s Schoenberg Hall, 445 Charles E. Young Drive East. Parking is available in Structure 2.
Staged by Vista Players, a “boundlessly talented” ensemble that “set the standard by which others were judged” (Sacramento News & Review), the production is the creation of award-winning playwright and director Aram Kouyoumdjian, who was granted special permission by Stanford University Libraries (where the Saroyan Collection is housed) to stage excerpts from the unpublished manuscripts.
Kouyoumdjian’s script, which weaves narration through selections from such Saroyan plays as “Home to Hayastan” and “Ouzenk Chouzenk Hai Yenk” (Like It or Not, We’re Armenians), explores themes like immigration, the trauma of genocide, and the notion of repatriation. Four performers – Jade Hykush, Will Maizel, Bailey Sorrel, and Robert Walters – tackle nearly 30 roles during the course of the 75-minute production.
Admission is free, and seating will be offered on a first-come, first-served basis.
The production had its first performance last month at the Los Angeles Central Library’s Taper Auditorium, where it was greeted by an overflow audience. In his “Asbarez” review, critic Ishkhan Jinbashian hailed the production as a “drop-dead gorgeous tapestry of storytelling and reflection.”
Since then, the production has traveled with its original cast for shows in Fresno (at the UC Center) and in Orange County (at UC Irvine) before returning to L.A. for an encore performance – this one at the Ararat-Eskijian Museum. The cast has garnered standing ovations in all three geographies, and audiences have described the experience as “moving, heartfelt, captivating”; “brilliantly staged”; and “beautifully performed.”
Saroyan is the pre-eminent Armenian-American author who rose to prominence in the 1930s and went on to have a prolific career for five decades. A writer of short stories, novels, plays, and memoirs, he won the Pulitzer Prize for his most famous dramatic work, “The Time of Your Life,” and an Academy Award for his screenplay of “The Human Comedy.”
Kouyoumdjian, who wrote his Master’s thesis on Saroyan’s unpublished plays, is the winner of Elly Awards for both playwriting (“The Farewells”) and directing (“Three Hotels”). His feature plays and solo pieces have been performed in half a dozen cities, from Los Angeles (Fountain Theatre) to London (Finborough Theatre). His most recent work has included an adaptation of Levon Shant’s “Ancient Gods” (2014); “Happy Armenians” (Los Angeles, 2015; Sacramento, 2016); and “i Go On,” an open-air, site-specific performance piece in conjunction with the iWitness installation of Genocide survivor portraits (DTLA’s Grand Park, 2015; Glendale Central Park, 2017).