Arpi Dadoyan has died.In the unwritten annals of the culture of the Armenian diaspora, Arpi holds a place which is as unique as it is legendary.
No one who has been fortunate to have seen her in Varoujan Khedeshian’s 1971 production of Theatre 67’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” can forget her ferociously intense performance of Martha. Martha is at least twice Arpi’s age as Edward Albee, the playwright, had written her. Martha is also a foul-mouthed drunk, a character of immense physical presence, in body, voice, and speech–a life force turned against itself, as it were.
Arpi was 23 when she performed this role, dominating the stage with an unbridled energy and audacity which no Armenian actress had shown before, at least not on the stages of the Armenian community of Beirut. I was in the audience, as a theater critic for “Ahegan,” the short-lived, groundbreaking review of literature and culture.
Beyond the understanding that Arpi displayed in that role, what was also significant was that she was a completely home-grown talent (taking her first theatrical steps on the tiny stage of Nshan Palandjian College (Djemaran) as an elementary school student), but lots of daring at a time of great creative energy, innovation, and freedom in pre-civil war Beirut. Arpi’s presence on the stage in “Virginia Woolf” and later in other productions of Theatre 67, was a testament to that collective spirit, which, alas, was as fragile as it was incendiary. If for no other reason, Arpi’s gesture was for the generations.
Arpi belonged to that generation of talented young men and women who by choice or force of circumstance had to leave Beirut. That passage, too, had neither been written nor acknowledged. Arpi continued her theatrical work in the US, performing with community groups, doing stand-up comedy, writing songs, but, truth be told, for many of us, our memory of her is seared in that fiery Martha who spoke Armenian in a voice as clear today as it was then, enriching the culture, yes, but also our native language.
The earth light, on Arpi Dadoyan.