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Saturday, March 17, 2012

Review: State of Denial

Rahul Varma confronts the big issues again
by Chris Lane

Denial comes in many forms, and can effectively erase the memories of the oppressed victims of atrocities untold. Local playwright Rahul Varma seeks to uncover the personal stories that have been suppressed and present them in a stark and moving new play, State of Denial. The production is presented by Teesri Duniya, of which Varma is Artistic Director, a theatre company with a 31-year history of  politically relevant plays that depict diverse aspects of Canada’s cultural minorities. 
In writing this play, Varma derived a fictional story from multiple true stories garnered from years of interviews as a part of the research for Life Stories of Montrealers Displaced by Genocide, War and Other Human Rights Violations. State of Denial is being presented as a part of Life Stories Montreal and is directed by Deborah Forde.
Through the course of the play, Sahana reveals an immense secret...

The story centres around a Rwandan-born Canadian filmmaker, Odette, who has been working in Turkey to create a documentary about Armenian survivors of the genocide that took place almost a hundred years ago during the rule of the Ottoman empire. Turkey’s government denies the genocide, so it is no mean feat for her to bring these stories back to Canadian audiences. In Turkey, she meets Sahana, an elderly Muslim woman who is a hero to some for her work helping Armenian survivors. Through the course of the play, Sahana reveals an immense secret, and other truths come out as Odette tries to get past the existing state of denial.
Helen Koya plays a convincingly passionate and driven Odette, while Rachelle Glait is strong and at times funny as both Sahana and an elderly woman in the life story that she tells Odette. The rest of the cast are solid, although there are a few patches where it seemed the play was not quite as polished as it should be by opening night.
One interesting thing about this play is that while watching it one cannot help but notice the similarities between stories from the Armenian genocide, the filmmaker’s stories of Rwanda, and stories that we have all heard about the most famous of genocides, the Holocaust. This helps drive home the fact that genocide is a tragedy that keeps on occurring, which is why the playwright seeks to spread these stories and prevent history from repeating itself.
On opening night, the Armenian Ambassador to Canada was in attendance, and the words he spoke to us after the show reminded us of how very real and significant these stories are to the Armenian people, despite being not very well-recognized by many Montrealers.  Although there are some weak points in the staging of this play, Varma’s work will not be easily forgotten, and it is an important exercise in raising awareness of the story of the Armenians in Turkey. This play humanizes this part of history, and shows us how, in the words of Sahana, “hatred is an acid that will burn through its container.”

March 16 to April 1, 2012 
Wednesday to Saturday 8:00pm
McCord Museum 690 Sherbrooke St. West, Montreal QC H3A 1E9
Box Office: 514 848 0238 Adults: $22, Seniors: $20, Students: $12   
Teesri Duniya Theatre

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