This year is the 90th anniversary of the National Academic Theatre of Armenia. Not by chance, it is named after Gabriel Sundukian. This is a deserved homage to the founder of Armenian modern theater.
Sundukian was born in the family of a merchant in Tiflis, on July 11, 1825. He studied at first in the school of Shahan Cirbied, the former professor of Armenian language at the Sorbonne, from 1832-1837. There he learned Classical and Modern Armenian, French, Latin, and Italian. After studying for two years in another Armenian private school, he followed the courses of the Russian gymnasium of Tiflis from 1840-1846.
He later went to St. Petersburg, where he studied at the Oriental Department of the School of History and Philology of the university. In those years, his love and interest for literature grew, and his theatrical taste was forged in the theaters of the Russian capital. He graduated with a dissertation on the principles of Persian versification.
During a short while, he taught at the Nersisian School of Tbilisi, and lived in Derbend, on the Caspian Sea shore, from 1853-1858. He returned to Tbilisi and went to work at the Railway Commission of Tiflis until his retirement.
Sundukian wrote his plays in the Armenian dialect of Tbilisi, with the aim of reaching out to the common people. The social questions of the time were the main subject of his works, and gave them enormous popularity. He was the first to represent the life of the city in Armenian theater, touching on family subjects, marriage, inequality of women, the relationship of parents and children, and other issues with depth and realism. He included all social classes in his plays, from merchants to workers.
The first phase of his production started with Sneezing at Night is Good Luck, premiered in 1861. He wrote other popular plays, such as Quandary (Khatabala) and Oskan Petrovich in the Other Life in 1866. These were basically light comedies where Sundukian criticized the situation of women, excessive love of money, and raised important moral questions.
The second phase consisted of serious comedies, where laughter and cry went together. He wrote his masterpiece, Pepo (1871), in this period, which had an enormous success. He introduced here the conflict of the bourgeois class and the lower class, and the tragedy of the protagonist, Pepo, who represented the working class. The play was essentially a critique of the moral flaws of the ruling class.
Other popular plays were Destroyed Home (1883) and Another Victim (1884), where he depicted the destruction of an entire family and the conflict of generations.
Sundukian passed away on March 29, 1912, in his hometown, Tbilisi, and was buried in the Armenian cemetery of Khojivank. His works have continued to enjoy wide popularity in Armenia and the Diaspora. Pepo became one of the first Armenian sound movies, filmed by Hamo Bek-Nazarian in 1935, and Khatabala was also turned into a movie in 1971.
The facade of the Gabriel Sundukian Theater in Central Yerevan.