In Memoriam: Dr. Nishan Parlakian (1925-2011)
We deeply mourn the loss of Dr. Nishan Parlakian, a longtime member of Ararat’s editorial board, who passed away on September 12, 2011 in Long Beach, NY. He was 86 years old.
Parlakian was born on July 11, 1925 in New York City, son of Raphael, a jeweler born in Sepastia, and Rose (O’Hanion). Early on, Nishan’s interest in literature was fostered by his father, who also wrote poetry that was regarded seriously by Daniel Varoujan. Later in life, Nishan published a volume of his father’s poetry in Yerevan, entitled Yergink Yergir yev Khorhurt [Heaven, Earth and Supreme Intelligence Beyond] 1919-1922.
After serving in World War II, he studied at Columbia University, receiving two M.A. degrees and a Ph.D. in Drama.
Dr. Parlakian was Professor Emeritus in Theater and Speech at John Jay College (CUNY) where he taught for thirty years, and past president of the Pirandello Society of America. He was also an Honorary Board member of the Armenian Dramatic Arts Alliance.
In 1972 Nishan Parlakian was invited by Archbishop Torkom Manoogian, Primate of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (now the Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem), to take over the Diocesan Drama Group and stage plays in the Armenian language. For twelve years he produced the works of such eminent Armenian dramatists as Alexander Shirvanzade, Gabriel Sundukian and Hagop Baronian. In the same period, he instructed both Armenian School youths and college level students in theater. With his Diocesan Players he toured the Armenian parishes in Philadelphia, Troy, Hartford, Providence and Boston.
He translated a number of plays from Armenian, including Shirvanzade’s For the Sake of Honor, published by St. Vartan Press and reprinted in the Columbia University Press anthology, Modern Armenian Drama (2001), which he edited with S. Peter Cowe. Subsequently, he edited two companion volumes: Contemporary Armenian American Drama: An Anthology of Ancestral Voices (Columbia, 2004) and Notable Women in Modern Armenian Drama: An Anthology (NAASR and AIWA, 2009).
Plays written or translated by Parlakian that have been produced include Their Hills Are Scarred, Master Theatre, New York City, 1949; Plagiarized, Pace University, New York City, 1965; What Does Greta Garbo Mean to You?, Churchyard Playhouse, 1976; Cast the First Stone, Quaigh Theatre, New York City, 1975; For the Sake of Honor, Classic Theatre, New York City, 1976; Evil Spirit, Classic, New York City, 1980.
Other works by Parlakian include a play, The Last Mohigian, and an unpublished novel, Karabagh Force Six.
In the early 1950s, Dr. Parlakian directed plays for the Armenian Students Association, which, in 1999, presented him with the Arthur H. Dadian Armenian Heritage Award for outstanding contributions on behalf of Armenian studies and culture. In 1960 he also received an honorary citation for his original play “Plagiarized” from the Stanley Awards Contest Committee that included Richard Watts Jr., chief critic of the New York Post. The play was subsequently produced at Pace University and published in First Stage (1965). In 1988, he received the International Arts Award of Columbus Countdown: 1992 for his ethnic Armenian play, Grandma, Pray for Me. The work had been produced earlier that year by the Classic Theater and published by Griffon House. Dr. Parlakian wrote many articles on Armenian theater and literature, co-authoring the important study “Armenian Literature: Between East and West”, which appeared in the Armenia volume of The Review of National Literatures (1984). In 1981, he took part in the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH)-sponsored Shakespeare Summerfest, staging a bilingual segment (Armenian and English) of the Shakespeare and the World program at the Museum of Natural History, also repeated at the Diocese. His introduction to that presentation was published in the October 1984 issue of the CNL World Report and by the Diocese. Professor Parlakian also prepared an overview of Armenian theater groups in America from the beginning of the last century which appeared as a chapter in Ethnic Theater in the United States (1980).
While serving for thirty years on the board of the Ararat Quarterly, he not only edited a complete issue on the works of Armenian-American playwrights, but also wrote on the great Armenian director Eugene Vakhtangov, as well as the renowned playwrights Shirvanzade and Saroyan.
Dr. Parlakian was an avid observer of theatrical activity in the homeland. In 1979, when he was a guest of the Armenian government for several weeks, he saw some three dozen plays and many rehearsals. As a Fulbright Senior Lecturer at Yerevan State University in 1992, he observed the elimination of Soviet-style censorship in government- subsidized theater with the coming of democracy: his observations were published in the CNL World Report (1993).
A few years ago, Dr. Parlakian was honored at the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern). The main speaker was Max Boudakian, his best man and close friend.
Dr. Parlakian is survived by his wife of 59 years, Florence (Mechtel), a librarian; children Nishan Payel and Elizabeth Rose; niece Pamela and nephew Jay. He was predeceased by his brother John Joseph in 1994.