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Young actors depict lasting pain of war

MalihA. Yousuf  'Night over Erzinga.' | Phoby Michael Brosilow

Maliha A. Yousuf in "Night over Erzinga." | Photo by Michael Brosilow

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‘Night Over Erzinga’

7:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays, and 3 p.m. Sundays through Nov. 11

Silk Road Rising, Pierce Hall, The Historic Chicago Temple Building, 77 W. Washington St., Chicago


(312) 857-1234, ext.201;

Two north suburban girls are performing with one of Chicago’s finest theater companies and having a history lesson at the same time.

Maliha A. Yousuf, a 10-year-old from Lake Forest, and 12-year-old Allison Torf from Northbrook are featured in Silk Road Rising’s “Night Over Erzinga.” The two rotate performances in Adriana Sevahn Nichols’ play, which is loosely based on the history of her family. It’s the story of three generations of an Armenian and Dominican family, and the long-lasting effects of the Armenian Genocide around the time of World War I.

“It’s one of those stories that you have to dig a little deeper,” Maliha said. “It’s almost the same as the Holocaust except that these people were Armenians and the Turks were killing the Armenians.”

Maliha said that, through this play, she is learning, “how it affects people. To think what happened to these people is terrible.”

“It’s really interesting to be part of a play that is someone’s real life,” Allison added. “Adriana wrote this amazing play and she added a second level. She put in places that I could have never thought of.”

She noted that photos playwright Nichols showed the cast helped her “visualize what is going on in the play.”

The girls play four roles, including two children who are killed during the Armenian Genocide: a younger sister of Ardavazt and a younger sister of Alice. Alice and Ardavazt both escape to America where they meet, marry and have a daughter, Aghavni. Maliha and Allison also play Aghavni as a child.

Maliha said that Aghavni “is really worried about her mother because her mother is normally a very loving and caring person and then she goes mentally crazy. At age eight, she gets sent into foster homes.”

The fourth role that the girls share is Aghavni’s daughter Estrella. “She is very sweet and innocent,” Maliha said.

The challenge of these roles, Allison said is that, “We have to know exactly what’s going on, exactly how the characters would react to every detail.”

Maliha, a fifth-grader at Deer Path Middle School, first performed in a nativity play when she was in kindergarten and instantly became hooked. “What I like about acting is that it allows you to use your imagination and be a different person even if you’re the complete opposite of that person,” she said.

Maliha has performed with the Academy at Citadel Theatre in Lake Forest. She is represented by Gray Talent Group and hopes to become a professional actor.

Wood Oaks Junior High School seventh-grader Allison began performing in park district shows when she was 4 years old. By the age of 9, she was in her first professional show at Stage Left Theatre in Chicago and had acquired an agent, Stewart Talent. She has appeared in Fantasea at the Shedd Aquarium, “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” at Provision Theatre and “The Big Meal” at American Theater Company.

Allison studied acting at the Actors Training Center at Wilmette Theatre and at Piven Theatre Workshop, and has attended workshops at Broadway Artists Alliance in New York three years in a row.

“I have my whole life planned out,” Allison said. “I’ll be an actress through college. I want to go to Northwestern and study marine biology, engineering and teaching.”

But that won’t be the end of Allison’s performing. “Acting will always be part of my life,” she declared.

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