Fresno Beehive

These Saroyan plays have not been seen before. See the unpublished works on stage now

Robert Walters, Will Maizel, Bailey Sorrel and Jade Hykush performing in the world premiere production of “William Saroyan: The Unpublished Plays in Performance.”
Robert Walters, Will Maizel, Bailey Sorrel and Jade Hykush performing in the world premiere production of “William Saroyan: The Unpublished Plays in Performance.”

William Saroyan was ahead of his time, writing about the challenge of diaspora and immigrant life in America.

Which gives his work significance, even close to 40 years years after his death.

“Those themes are very much pulsating today,” says Aram Kouyoumdjian, who premiered a set of previously unpublished and unperformed plays by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author earlier this month at the Los Angeles Central Library.

A second staging of “William Saroyan: The Unpublished Plays In Performance” happens Friday at the Armenian Museum of Fresno. The event is free with reservations at 559-224-1001.

The plays — six of them, done in excerpts over 75 minutes — come from the William Saroyan Collection at Stanford University, part of a stash that Kouyoumdjian discovered while working on his master’s thesis in English literature. They were written in the 1970s, late in Saroyan’s career, and are examples of Saroyan’s diaspora writing, Kouyoumdjian says.

He makes the distinction between that and Saroyan’s ethnic writing, in that while these plays are about the Armenian experience, they explore the feeling of otherness that comes with being in a new country.

“Even though Saroyan wrote about the immigrant experience in his fiction, it’s not as well-known in his plays,” says Kouyoumdjian, who directed the four-member cast from the Sacramento-based Vista Players.

The plays, woven together with literary content and biographical information, have names like “Ouzenk Chouzenk Hai Yenk” (Like It or Not, We’re Armenians) and explore topics like the trauma of genocide and the notion of repatriations.

Hopefully, the performance shows the breadth of Saroyan’s work, Kouyoumdjian says. And there is more of that work that remains to be discovered, he says.

“There are boxes and boxes at Stanford that have yet to be studied.”

Joshua Tehee: 559-441-6479, @joshuatehee

“William Saroyan: The Unpublished Plays In Performance”

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