“Matthew, am I really alive? Don’t laugh at me—I have never known,” says Victoria, a survivor of the Armenian genocide, to her great grandson in the bizarre dreamscape that serves as the end of “Deported / a dream play.” Written by Joyce Van Dyke and running until April 1 at The Modern Theatre at Suffolk University and directed by Judy Braha, the play follows Victoria (Bobby Steinbach) as she encounters the ghosts of her past and confronts the unknown—or rather, the purposefully forgotten. Though it tackles a subject overflowing with emotional power, “Deported” at times suffers from acting that is unable to do the theme justice. Occasionally, however, the actors, directing, and technical elements come together in both comic splashes and tender emotional portrayals that bring to life unimaginable tragedies and underscore the importance, in Victoria’s mind, of remembering the past.
The action in “Deported” centers around the memories that follow Victoria until she finally decides to explore her own past before her life draws to a close. Victoria recounts the traumas of her late compatriot Varter (Jeanine Kane) to Shoshana, (Liz Hayes) a student compiling an archive of the genocide in a society chocked full of genocide deniers. In the process, Victoria faces her own memories for the first time. Her culture, the horrors of war, and a family that she has blocked from her memory for years resurface in her mind, and she is confronted with the challenge of forgiving. It is a touching reminder of how the past haunts the present, however “Deported” unfolds into a confusing and tedious staging of a dream that the actors attempt to buoy but cannot save.
Even in moments in which the script is well written, however, the actors occasionally falter. In the beginning of the play, many of the lead actors have trouble getting on their feet, leaving the play lethargic in some of its potentially brightest moments. Varter’s ghost visits Victoria for the first time, and the two argue about the past. “You can sit there making lace until doomsday. You still wont exist,” says Steinbach sharply. The scene should be wrought with emotional tension—the woman Victoria once worked so hard to save has returned, begging to be saved again, begging to be remembered. Victoria struggles in script, yet Steinbach does not mimic this emotional complexity. Steinbach’s actions are sure, while her words seem uncertain. Gone is the confusion that plagues the character, present is only the decision to expel her past.
While Ken Baltin, who plays Victoria’s husband among other things, also suffers from this single mindedness at the outset, the supporting actors (most notably Marya Lowry), lighting design (John Malinowski), and scene design (Jon Savage) are strong from the start. The stage’s metallic background reflects a cold blue light in harsh moments and glows gold with warm lighting in scenes where Victoria is happily performing as an actress in her new life. Malinowski and Savage complement one another creatively throughout the play, enhancing the best of its moments.
Equally creative is director Judy Braha’s decision to clear the stage not with black-clad stagehands but rather with dancers draped in white robes who twirl around in full sight between and even during scenes. Like the ghosts rearranging Victoria’s life, the dancers rearrange the furniture on set. While this decision adds to the play’s fluidity and drama, elsewhere the direction is less apt. Most notable is the play’s ending dream sequence; though already written to be unfortunately long, the scene’s flaws are exacerbated by a lack of emotional and physical movement.
“Deported” has moments of true strength, such as those in which the actors execute the well-written portions of the play with precision. The most consistent of these are the moments of humor, in which all of the actors regularly deliver their lines well, waiting just long enough for the punch line and capturing the old-world humor of some of their jokes for a new-world audience.
The actors do moments of tragedy well, too. Lowry, who plays a variety of supporting roles, is consistently able to infuse her characters with the tension or torment appropriate to each specific scene. When she plays a Turkish politician’s wife and denier of the genocide whose daughter has been murdered, she wrings her hands and swings her body as she speaks. “What did my daughter do?” she asks. She turns to the audience, eyes full of a mother’s grief. “It’s all lies,” she exclaims, claiming sympathy that is unexpected for one of the story’s villains. Baltin and Steinbach succeed as well, especially in the middle of the play, as they share the worst of the tragedies that befall them and their friends and family.
“What am I doing? I told you not to come back. I have my own life!” Victoria exclaims in an attempt to push away the ghosts of her past as they enter her life in the beginning of the play. “Deported” enters modern lives with the story of a genocide and the importance of remembering, and—though shaky and flat at times—refuses to be pushed away.
—Staff writer Keerthi Reddy can be reached at email@example.com.