By Ayla Francis, MALD 2017, The Fletcher School
The production opened in a dream – a dream of what was, a dream filled with the celebration of culture, of family, of identity. And it ended with a dream of reconciliation.
The Tufts Initiative on Mass Atrocities and Genocide (IMAGe) attended the University’s Department of Drama and Dance production of Joyce Van Dyke’s Daybreak on November 6, 2015, the play’s closing weekend. A small theater filled with a cast of only 10, the play told the story of Victoria Boyajian, an Armenian woman who is haunted by her memories of the forced displacement and genocide of 1915. Her trauma is triggered by the catastrophic 1938 hurricane in her new city of Providence, Rhode Island. The audience watched as Victoria was plagued by flashbacks of her life before coming to the United States, remarrying and attempting to start a new life as an actress. Through Victoria’s dreams, the audience was exposed to the struggle of understanding a trauma, working through one’s narrative of that experience and determining if and when that story should be told.
The performances were beautiful, powerfully demonstrating the complexity of a post-traumatic experience like genocide. It reminded the audience of what we know to be true, the underlying theme that at the very core, we are all human. We were reminded to Victoria’s role as a mother as she wailed “my children! my children!” after a memory of all of her children’s deaths during the deportation. She is a close friend. This is made very clear in her frequent flashbacks of her dear friend Varter, with whom Victoria was deported from Mezireh. Varter also lost all of her children during the deportation and ended up in the United States, creating a new life.
Victoria’s story progresses as the audience began to understand her daughter Rose. Rose’s narrative introduced another layer of complication. Her cries to Victoria raised an issue that is not always discussed – what happens when all of your family is lost in a tragedy but you remarry, have more children, and create a new life for yourself? How is the trauma from your past transmitted to your family and how does one move forward? Moving forward is not always easy nor does it always seem necessary for some survivors. Victoria’s second husband, Harry displayed that sometimes one must just move forward with their new life instead of reflecting on the past because the trauma is too great.
Daybreak ended with a reunion in the future. At 130 years old, Victoria was able to come face to face with a Turkish woman 100 years after the genocide, speak with Rose and meet her great-grandson, a historian. Collectively the characters seek to find a word to describe the place they wish to be. What is beyond forgiveness, beyond remembering, beyond revenge? Has humanity found that word and if so, is that what we need to move forward?
A small group consisting of Daybreak Director Barbara Wallace Grossman, members of the audience and cast, IMAGe Fellows, Bridget Conley-Zilkic of the World Peace Foundation and Dr. Paul Summergrad of Tufts University School of Medicine convened after the play. Barbara Grossman highlighted the importance of art bringing important issues to light, not only to tell a story but to hopefully invoke action. Trauma’s impact on our ability to develop and maintain a sense of our ourselves and our identity was raised by Dr. Summergrad. He highlighted that scientific research has shown that the transmission of trauma can and does occur through genetics and biology. This is an important consideration as focus is often on the cultural transmission of trauma. Professor Conley-Zilkic stressed the importance of looking at genocide and mass atrocities in the “long view”. In the Armenian case demonstrated in the play, the long view included the spectrum from the deportations, the damaged interpersonal relationships between Victoria, Rose, Harry and others, and the transformation of intimacy in the aftermath of such a tragedy.
This year, the international community commemorated the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide and continues to attempt a formal reconciliation process, a term that is loaded with complications. This is made even more complicated when we consider that what happened to the Armenians is still not universally considered to have been genocide. How does a community reconcile when there is no consensus about what happened? Daybreak ended on a positive note, with Armenians, Turks, and others coming together to commit to telling their stories and begin to reconcile, at the very least. Though this is not the solution, getting to that point is an important and critical start.