Kathleen Chalfant, one of the theater’s most celebrated actors, stars in the World Premiere of Alexander Dinelaris’ searing new play, “Red Dog Howls,” which premiered on May 14 at the El Portal Theatre for a strictly limited five week engagement. The play ends its run on June 13. “Red Dog Howls” also stars Matthew Rauch and Darcie Siciliano, and is directed by Michael Peretzian. “Red Dog Howls” is produced by Gang of Five-New York and Leo Lauer.
The play tells the story of Michael Kiriakos, a young man who is forced to confront his family’s most terrible secret, in order for him to move forward with his own life. After his father dies, he discovers a box of letters from his grandmother Rose, whom his father had told him was long dead. Michael finds her, and as they establish a relationship, Rose begins reveals the truth about Michael’s family: that he is Armenian, not Greek, and that his family, like many Armenia’s, was destroyed by the Turks in the early part of the century.
As they become closer, Michael’s wife’s pregnancy advances and events begin to collide. The play climaxes when Rose tells him the final secret, a dark sacrifice that has cursed the family ever since. Once he learns the truth, Michael realizes he must summon all his strength to end the curse once and for all.
Tickets for “Red Dog Howls” are available online at www.reddoghowls.com or www.elportaltheatre.com and by phone at (818) 508-4200. For group sales please call (818) 508-4200. The El Portal Theatre is at 5269 North Lankershim Blvd. in North Hollywood.
Playwright Alexander Dinelaris was nominated for two Drama Desk awards in 2003 for his work on the book and lyrics for the Off-Broadway hit “Zanna Don’t.” He also worked on the screenplay for the next film by producer director Alejandro Gonz?lez-I??rritu, Academy Award nominee for “Babel” and producer of “21 Grams”.
The play is directed by Michaeil Petetzian, whose previous works include “Phil and Mac” by David Briggs for Los Angeles Actors’ Theatre, the West Coast Premiere of “Talking With” by Jane Martin for the Mark Taper Forum Taper Too, a staged reading of Truman Capote’s “One Christmas” for the Taper, and “A Christmas Memory,” broadcast for many years on KCRW FM (NPR).
Horizon Television’s Ani Tatevosyan caught with Dineralris, Petetzian and Lauer at a recent press screening. Below is the interview.
Ani Tetevosyan: What was the inspiration for the play?
Alexander Dinelaris: I was raised by my Armenian grandmother, Vartouhi Afratian She raised me alone without my parents until I was 6 or 7 years old. So, I grew up, very much in the Armenian culture. But, as I got older and she passed away, the culture difted away from me, because there was nobody else to carry it on. As I went and thought about my grandmother more, and I started to write plays, I had one in me; My grandmother had a story that was very secretive to her, and I wanted to write a play that would do her honor, as essentially my mother and the Armenian culture that I grew up in.
A.T.: What is the message to the audience?
A.D.: I think the play–in the end–is really about putting the pain of our pasts, whether it’s Armenian or any other culture in the world, to sleep–to rest, and carrying with us the strength and the lessons of our ancestors. For me, I tied it to the Armenian culture, because of my grandmother. I don’t think this play is for the Armenian people; I think the Armenian people know their own story–knot the Genocide. They know their own personal family stories; This play goes out to non-Armenia’s, to tell the story very strakly of what happened to the Armenian culture, because so many people who aren’t Armenian don’t know about the Armenian Genocide, the Armenian people or the culture. So, I think I wrote this play for my grandmother, and for my family, and for the Armenia’s that I knew and loved, to say this happened. Pay attention! So far, all the non-Armenia’s who have seen the play, come back and say %u218After I saw it, I went on the internet and looked it up;I never knew about this;’ That’s the best thing for me.
A.T.: Is this your first play?
A.D.: This is my fourth play. I have two another play that are headed for Broadway. This is my newest play; And my most personal–I think. We wanted to start out here in Los Angeles because, if you’re gonna write about a play about Armenia’s, you have to start in Los Angeles. So, we took a chance, because it’s not a big theater audience out here. We took a chance to be here, because I own that to the people–to the Armenian people.
A.T.: What drew you to this project?
Michael Petertzian: Both of my parents were born in Turkish Armenia. We grew up in New Jersey–in the countryside and never really had any connection, other than with my parents being Armenian. There was always something that they didn’t want to talk about. They never wanted to answer our questions about that. So, I grew up thinking there was something wrong; Something they didn’t want to talk about. They’re both gone now, and I never heard the stories. Except, I went to visit my uncle, and he told me stories about my father and my mother–the stories that they did want to talk about. So, this play, for me, is going back and finding out what is it that they didn’t want to talk about. I used to think, maybe, it was some kind of humiliation about losing their country; As I heard the stories my uncle told me, I realized that they were the ones that were allowed to live; And, they didn’t want to talk about it. Perhaps, they felt guilty; My mother would get a phone call from the utility company that was perhaps past due, she’d get very nervous, the accent would get very thick; I would think to myself %u218What was she worried about?’ I didn’t realize it at the time; Maybe, she thought they were going to send her back. So, in this play, when Michael, the lead character is going back to discover his roots, for me that’s exactly what I was doing in directing this play. To find out what it was my parents did not want to talk about.
A.T.: Why did you choose this play?
Leo Lauer: I never knew anything about the Armenian story, until I read Alex’s play. And when I read, it not only touched me as an Armenian story, but a story of a family, and a mystery, and about my own parents. We knew we had to do it. That was the beginning of it. After you read that, you start going to research that; You start to understand; You say why isn’t this world being heard? I’m not Armenian, so for me it was: %u218Why isn’t this story being told?’
A.T.: How did you get here with it?
L.L.: We said, if we’re going to tell the story where is it going to start? We started to research a little more and we thought we had to come to Los Angeles; We had to come to Glendale; We had to come to North Hollywood; And, that’s why we’re here.