~~Varoujan Khedeshian has died.
In the 1960s, when I lived in Beirut, Khedeshian burst on the Armenian theater scene like wild fire. His productions were Armenian renditions of contemporary European and American dramatic works–Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, The Crucible, Marat-Sade, among others. He chose well, inspired young persons to take up acting, conceived of theater as a total experience (sound, set design, costumes) and generated much discussion, enthusiasm, and controversy. One of the most memorable among the talents he discovered was Arpie Dadoyan, whose riveting portrayal of Martha in Albee’s Woolf is still etched in my memory. That she was a mere 22-year-old playing the role of a woman much, much older only added to her powerful, magnetic presence on stage. There were other luminary performances as well, all in Western Armenian, which revitalized the “minority” language and opened it to the world, to its non-Armenian surroundings, and to the themes of world literature. I wrote about Khedeshian’s productions in the short-lived yet extraordinary literary journal Ahégan. In fact, it would not be an exaggeration to say that my love of theater began in those years, in Beirut, where I even tried my hand at play-production for a class I took in college. I produced Albee’s The Zoo Story and Harold Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter. It’s a love that has neither died nor diminished in intensity–a first love.
The Lebanese Civil War was not kind to the Beirut Armenian community’s cultural figures, among them Khedeshian. Khedeshian’s character, too, was not kind to its holder . But the work stands apart from the person who produces it. What Khedeshian produced is incontestably pioneering, particularly during those pre-Civil War years when so much energy in Beirut–in literature, in visual arts, in theater–was put to the service of innovation and renewal. Renewal, yes, but more than that to the effort to bring the Armenian community into the sphere of Lebanese culture and art, to shed off the status of a meek minority intent on keeping itself cloistered (and safe) from the dangerous currents of the other. The intent was a cross-pollination, a dialogue. Khedeshian’s belongs in that expanded category of cultural production, with a diverse group of artists and cultural figures–Arabs and Armenians alike.
When–and if–the history of that period of Armenian cultural production is ever written, and archived, Khedeshian’s work, like that of others in various spheres of art, will receive its much deserved attention and critique. (In fact, if you do a google search of Khedeshian’s work–in image mainly–you’ll find nothing, not even one photograph. All is in the memory of individuals who were inspired by his work, and the work of others like him. Or you can find them in private collections of photos or in community newspapers.) I am not holding my breath that such a project of cultural preservation will take place. We’re busy with big issues. ~~