BOSTON, Mass. – Award-winning playwright Barbara Bejoian probed Armenian-American customs and traditions, exploring shifting relations between family and friends and adjustments to rapid changes in the modern world, during her successful career cut short by her death from cancer in 2004.
In a tribute to her talent and achievements, two of her best known plays, “The Porch” and “Dance, Mama, Dance,” will be featured in a program “Barbara + 2,” a staged reading on Sunday, Nov. 7, at the Armenian Cultural Foundation in Arlington.
“The Porch” (1999) takes place in the Berkshires and Boston and is subtitled “An Old-Fashioned Play with a New-Fashioned Ending.” It deals with family/friend relationships and reflects Bejoian’s love for baseball, Fenway Park and the Boston Red Sox. It was awarded first prize at the Sewanee Writers Conference in 2001.
“Dance, Mama, Dance” was commissioned by the Rites and Reason Theatre at Brown University, where it was first performed in 1984 and later revised and produced there in 1989 with the support of a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation. One of a trilogy of Bejoian plays centered on defining the Armenian-American women of the 20th century, it explores political, religious and social tensions arising as the past of a multi-generational Armenian-American family is unraveled.
Widely recognized as a playwright, Bejoian was also an outstanding educator, teaching English, playwriting and creative writing to a variety of students in many settings, ranging from elementary school children whose second language was English to undergraduate and graduate students at several universities, including Brown, New York University, Rhode Island School of Design and the University of Rhode Island. She received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts as well as 10 Massachusetts Artist-in-Residence Awards for her work with elementary school children.
Born in Watertown in 1955, Bejoian graduated from Watertown High School and Wheaton College. After participating in writing seminars at Radcliffe College and serving as a summer intern in documentary writing at the BBC in London, she earned her Master of Arts degree in creative writing from Brown University. Subsequently, she collaborated for several years with the director of Brown‘s Rites and Reason Theatre George Housston Bass while teaching at Brown.
One of the highlights of her career was the presentation in 1994 of her popular work, based on the life of Virginia Wolff, “A Play of One’s Own,” at the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland, where it won the Critics Choice Award. She wrote over 10 plays which were performed in Boston, Philadelphia, Providence, New York and Fort Lauderdale.
Bejoian was inspired by her first visit to Armenia with a group of scholars in 1989 and returned for six months in 1995 with her young family with a Fulbright Scholarship. Despite the difficult conditions at the time in the newly independent Armenia, Bejoian managed to teach courses at the American University of Armenia, deliver a series of lectures in Gyumri and Vanadzor, stage a play at the American Embassy in Yerevan and present a reading of her latest Armenian American play “Eagles Without Wings – Horses Without Legs” at Yerevan State University. The theme of her work there was “Armenian Folklore for Tomorrow: Voices of an Ancient People,” and she focused her attention there, and later when she returned to America, to fostering relations between homeland and diaspora Armenians.
“Barbara + 2: A Staged Reading of 2 of Her Award-Winning Plays” is being produced by Harborside Films president Paul Boghosian and directed by Blair Cadden, a graduate of the MFA directing program at Boston University and co-founder of 5th Wall Productions. Professional actors from the Boston-area will take part. Co-sponsors are the Armenian International Women’s Association (AIWA), the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research and the Armenian Cultural Foundation (ACF).