It’s inspired by true stories of Ms. van Dyke’s ancestors and is superbly realized by its highly theatrical presentation containing Nicole Ansari’s towering performance and the work of a dynamic cast.
A collection of windows in frames of various sizes and styles hangs from the back wall of the stage; from the ceiling hang wooden chairs; the stage is set with wooden chairs, a few buckets a desk and a table. Sheryl Liu’s boldly abstract scenic design instantly makes it clear that the audience is in for a non-realistic journey much like Jo Mielziner’s historic set for the original production of Death of a Salesman where the actions took place in Willy Loman’s mind.
The cast of three men and three women appear and euphorically perform an Armenian folk dance. Then we’re in the attic of a house in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1938. The captivating Victoria is sewing a quilt, her cranky husband Harry is anxious for his dinner and their teenage daughter Rose is out. Victoria acts in plays put on by an Armenian theater group and has a grandeur about her. She and Harry are both from Armenia and each have endured traumas that have follow them.
In 1982 Victoria and Harry are now quite old and have been living in Southern California since 1945. They are being interviewed by a young woman for a university’s oral history project.
The third section is an extended surrealistic sequence representing Victoria’s dreamy consciousness that collides with other’s dreams and is a cascade of memories and events in the future.
Ms. van Dyke has the supreme confidence to offer such a dense, non-linear and cryptic well-written work where facts are imparted piece by piece with suspense. That van Dyke has the skill to pull it all together is confirmed by the tantalizing experience of following the incidents as they lead to a richly rewarding conclusion.
Director Lucie Tiberghein mines the play’s pathos, comedy and mystery with her dazzling staging that fills the space with arresting imagery. Through grand movement, fluid transitions between the various dimensions and obtaining intense performances, Ms. Tiberghein creates an enthralling presentation.
A speech of Madame Arcati’s from Noël Coward’s Blithe Spirit recited in Armenian is just one of the many highlights of Nicole Ansari’s awesome performance as Victoria. The long-haired and physically graceful Ms. Ansari’s crystalline presence, twinkling eyes and tremulous voice are a joy to behold especially when she is supposed to be 90 years old. Ansari’s brilliance is showcased as she simultaneously conveys the character’s despair, resilience and humor as the production’s riveting centerpiece.
The alluring Tamara Sevunts’ ethereal quality is mesmerizingly evident in her appearances as Varter, Victoria’s best friend who haunts her. Ms. Sevunts also plays Victoria’s daughter Rose and in both characterizations, she attains girlishness with depth.
In the annals of portrayals of the elderly by a much younger actor, the animated Michael Irvin Pollard’s poignantly hilarious turn as the 90-year-old Harry is remarkable. His wildly contorted body outstretched, grasping a cane and circuitously hobbling around, Mr. Pollard is visually amazing. When it is required, Pollard suspends the comical crotchetiness to erupt in howling emotion to reveal long ago horrors. He is also gruffly charming as the younger Harry and chilling as a sinister Turkish official.
As a balletic Mexican gardener, an Armenian love interest and as Victoria’s great-grandson, the sunny Robert Najarian winningly exhibits a lively variety of traits during his appealing appearances.
With breezy authority, the blonde and personable Angela Pierce delightfully plays the cheery university interviewer as well as a surprise character.
Melis Aker’s radiance and warm countenance makes her portrayals of several enigmatic Turkish figures quite vivid.
Marie Yokoyama’s shimmering lighting design beautifully evokes the universe of the subconscious with its propulsive variances. Old radio broadcasts, musical interludes and effects are all crisply heard due to Kate Marvin’s adept sound design.
Looking like displays at the Ellis Island Museum are many of costume designer Dina El-Aziz’s striking ensembles that have the dusty realism of immigrant’s clothing.
In 1915 after years of massacres of Armenians in Turkey, there began a systemic government ordered execution of Armenian men while women and children were deported. This meant a long and often fatal march through the desert with only what they could carry. Estimates are in the one million range as to how many people died due to these atrocities.
Daybreak weaves these horrendous facts into an entrancing theatrical spectacle.
Daybreak (through May 13, 2018)
Pan Asian Repertory Theatre
The Beckett Theatre at Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 800-447-7400 or visit http://www.panasianrep.org
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission