‘Night Over Erzinga’ is an Armenian experience brought to life on stage 

click to enlarge Family tradition: Juliet Tanner and Brian Trybom play a young Armenian couple in “Night Over Erzinga.” (Courtesy photo) - FAMILY TRADITION: JULIET TANNER AND BRIAN TRYBOM PLAY A YOUNG ARMENIAN COUPLE IN “NIGHT OVER ERZINGA.” (COURTESY PHOTO)
  • Family tradition: Juliet Tanner and Brian Trybom play a young Armenian couple in “Night Over Erzinga.” (Courtesy photo)
  • Family tradition: Juliet Tanner and Brian Trybom play a young Armenian couple in “Night Over Erzinga.” (Courtesy photo)

Adriana Sevahn Nichols subtly and poetically draws from her own life in a “Night Over Erzinga,” a heartfelt world premiere presented by Golden Thread Productions.

The Bay Area troupe, whose mission is to give voice to Middle Eastern artists, commissioned the play with New York’s Lark Play Development Center and Chicago’s Silk Road Theatre Project.

In its first outing, the groups’ Middle East America new plays initiative proves a success.

Deftly mixing history with personal stories, “Night Over Erzinga” follows several generations of an Armenian-American family (based on the writer’s ancestors) with the main focus on one couple, Ardavazdt and Alice Oghidanian.

In 1913, young Ardavazdt comes to the U.S. after his family in Armenia is visited by a brutal Turk on a quest to enlist men of age. He meets Alice, also Armenian, and they work hard in their new homeland to raise their young daughter Aghavni.

Flash forward to 1960s New York, where the grown-up Aghavni, who calls herself Ava, falls in love with Bienvenido, a charismatic singer from the Dominican Republic — but their life together bears deep scars from the past, that go back as far as the Armenian genocide after World War I.

Nichols’ clever script (in which the actors portray multiple roles) mixes chronological and flashback action as it moves the story along in an appealing, straightforward manner.

Director Hafiz Karmali keeps the versatile group — headed by Brian Trybom as young Ardavazdt and romantic Benny, and Juliet Tanner as young Alice and Ava — on track.

Neva Marie Hutchinson whose primary role is the older Alice, who loses her mind, and Terry Lamb as the older Ardavazdt, also are excellent. They vividly bring to light the struggles of immigrants lives’ and how their choices resonate for their first-generation American children.

Original music by Penka Kouneva enriches the show’s detailed attention to Armenian traditions. (“Erzinga” refers to the name of a region in Western Armenia).

On the other hand, a clunky set design of a moving wall and doors, and basic table-and-chair interior, add little to the proceedings.

Still, it’s the heart of the human experience that drives “Night Over Erzinga,” a story familiar not just to Armenians, but to so many foreigners who journeyed to America in search of a better life.

lkatz@sfexaminer.com

THEATER REVIEW

Night Over Erzinga

Presented by Golden Thread Productions

Where: Southside Theater, Building D, Fort Mason, Marina Boulevard and Buchanan Street, S.F.

When: 8:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; closes Oct. 9

Tickets: $28 to $36

Contact: (415) 345-7575, www.goldenthread.org

About The Author

Leslie Katz

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