Marched across desert, trapped and suffocated in smoking caves, hacked apart with rudimentary farming tools, the massacres of 1.5 million Christian Armenians between 1915 and 1923 were unsystematic acts of gore. If not for a photo record, graphic and deeply disturbing, taken by a German witness, Armin T. Wegner, extreme situations of this magnitude might be trivialized, if not completely thrown onto the ash heaps of history.  The contemporary poet and author Peter Balakian does write in remembrance, however, continuing to tell the untellable, answering Hitler’s rhetorical question, written in 1939, “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”  The playwright Alexander Dinelaris also attempts to tell one survivor’s story in Red Dog Howls at New York Theatre Workshop, starring Kathleen Chalfant, Alfredo Narciso, and Florencia Lozano. The history is so overwhelming that it keeps flooding the dramatic mechanism (I can see how Beckett or Pinter would do this by stripping away until universality or how David Hare might whisk us before international committees, Turkish officials, and D.C. hearings). Dinelaris gives us kitchen sink drama and Brechtian narration. He’s thinking of this in the terms we see in conventional movies and TV programs, but how much stronger this investigation of a family’s past would be if he followed his impulses to the ancient Greeks: for when Kathleen Chalfant screams late in the play, she’s not screaming for primetime, she’s screaming down the ages. Directed by Ken Rus Schmoll. Through October 18.

Copyright 2012 by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.

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