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Revisiting a nearly forgotten genocide

March 14, 2003|Daryl H. Miller

The program for "Let the Rocks Speak" notes that Adolf Hitler cited the world's short memory about the killing of Armenians as carte blanche for his own murder of Poles. Today, still fewer people remember the 1.5 million Armenians killed in 1915-16 by the Young Turk government, which ruled the remnants of the Ottoman Empire.

Playwright Lilly Thomassian wants to change that by educating the audiences who show up for this ShapeShifter Productions presentation at the Fountain Theatre.

Thomassian was inspired by a survivor whose remembrances were recorded by the Glendale-based Genocide Project and presented, along with other documentary material, in a 1999 issue of the Los Angeles Times Magazine.

The story unfolds in a living room that in D.V. Caitlyn's set design, has been literally ripped apart at the seams. This is the residence, in 1925, of a father and two daughters who survived the genocide and moved to America. The younger daughter, Gayaneh (Anais Thomassian, no relation to the playwright) is celebrating her 16th birthday. Just 6 at the time of her family's death march into the desert, she remembers little of what happened. Her father (Jimmie F. Skaggs) and 22-year-old sister, Anoosh (Anna Der Nersesian), however, can't forget, because a ghostly chorus (Magda Harout, Stephanie Satie and Amanda Troop) keeps drifting into the apartment to whisper the stories anew.

Director Anita Khanzadian establishes a buoyant mood in the sisters' playful interactions, which makes the descent into darkness -- after Gayaneh begins asking questions -- all the more harrowing.

The brutality is painful to learn about, but conscientious citizens of the world will attend for the same reasons they showed up for "Schindler's List" or "Shoah."

-- D.H.M.

"Let the Rocks Speak," Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., Hollywood. Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 and 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Ends April 27. $25. (323) 663-1525. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.

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