BROOKLINE, Mass.—Greek-Armenian actress Christina Alexanian left hundreds in tears on Saturday night after her powerful performance depicting the gruesome reality of the Armenian Genocide (1915) and the Destruction of Smyrna (1922) in her theatrical interpretation of the memoir entitled The Notebooks of Anzel Kourtian.
During the solo production, Alexanian filled the role of Anzel Kourtian, a Genocide survivor and migrant laborer, who once journeyed in a single shoe and continued to wear it without the missing pair as a reminder of her people’s civilized roots. Upon arrival in Smyrna, Greece after the barbaric march through Der Zor, every sign of hope for liberation had faded. “There was a burnt smell everywhere that I will never forget. Our whole life was an endless war,” expressed the actress, as she was seen hiding from Turkish soldiers tasked with setting Smyrna on fire.
The stage was simple—set with a sewing machine on a table atop a large traditional tablecloth with a chair on each side. Kourtian’s mother happened to be a skilled needle-worker and the designated lead seamstress for wealthy Turkish families.
Alexanian’s performance was moving and spoke louder than her minimalist set and props. She effortlessly transitioned through different, demanding roles: weeping victims, naive children and enraged Turks. The adaptation was performed in the Greek language; audience members followed along with projected English super-titles. Alexanian consistently maintained the integrity of her grieving character even during brief pauses between scenes as the stage lights dimmed to cue raw footage from the Genocide. “I chose all of the [Armenian] songs in the show, without speaking Armenian, but I can feel the songs, like Groung. And it was very important to me that the singer was from Armenia,” said Alexanian referring to Maria Spyridonidou, whose traditional songs accompanied her on-stage performance.
Audience members roared with emotional applause during a standing ovation at the Maliotis Cultural Center. Patrons flooded Alexanian to personally congratulate her and thank her not only for an outstanding performance, but also for her commitment to share a story that resonated with so many.
A Smyrna native approached Alexanian and recalled a local, mute ice cream man from his childhood. After returning to Smyrna years later as an adult, he learned of the ice cream man’s death and the reason for his condition—the Ottoman Turks had cut his tongue. He told Alexanian he couldn’t stop crying during the play.
In an interview with the Weekly, Alexanian expressed her pride in representing the strength of her own family through her work. “It’s like they are next to me when I’m performing,” she said, honoring the memory of her great-grandparents Bedros and Iskuhi, who fell victim during the Genocide.
Alexanian said she learned about Kourtian’s story and her book of journal entries from her daughter Nelly Hanikian. The two met several times in Hanikian’s childhood home, and after six months, Alexanian had penned and directed this production.
The Notebooks of Anzel Kourtian was written through 1924, but Alexanian extended her script until Kourtian’s death in 1991 to share her full life post-Genocide filled with her own children and grandchildren.
Alexanian has performed 80 shows in three years throughout Greece, France, Cyprus and the United States. She says her show in Paris last year on April 24th was the most memorable.
Following her Boston performance, she returned to New York for one last production before heading home to Athens, Greece. “People are arguing who’s going to bring you back!” said former President of the Federation of Hellenic-American Societies of New England Elizabeth Papaslis to Alexanian.
Alexanian’s performance in the US occurred days after the US Senate unanimously recognized the Armenian Genocide. Alexanian says she is proud to be fighting for justice with her performance. “It means something,” she says, “that humanity must remember these terrible criminals. Not for revenge, but for victims to have peace and to never again have crimes against humanity in the future.”