Gerson Smoger talks Some People Hear Thunder and his quest for justice

Gerson Smoger talks Some People Hear Thunder and his quest for justice

Photo by Richard Lovrich

For more than a decade Gerson Smoger has carried a story with him. The doctor, human rights activist, and trial lawyer has represented clients impacted by major polluters across the world. He worked as lead counsel for Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange and has represented Americans impacted by lead contamination and dioxins. As a young man he pledged he would do everything he could to draw attention to the period in history that has largely gone unexamined, the Armenian Genocide. Smoger has a record of seeking justice for those who have been done wrong. The story Smoger has carried with him is in many ways an extension of his work to secure justice and his life traveling the world working to advance human rights.  

Some People Hear Thunder is a musical and a love story that mines history and specifically deals with the Armenian Genocide. If you haven’t heard of the Armenian genocide, you aren’t alone. The systematic killing of over 1.5 million Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Empire carried out during World War I has been largely ignored by the history books. And Turkey refuses to acknowledge it ever took place–going so far as to try to use its political influence to quash mentions of the killings. The United States, Israel, and the United Kingdom don’t officially recognize the Genocide. For Smoger the best way to seek justice for victims of the Genocide is to share the story, to increase awareness. “When you get it in the history books. When it becomes part of the curriculum there is no going back,” Smoger told The Alt during an interview last week. The genocide has become increasingly more a part of popular culture. The band System of Down has significantly raised awareness. The Promise, starring Christian Bale, deals heavily with the genocide but it struggled to get distribution due to political pushback.

Some People Hear Thunder takes place in both New York City and an Armenian section of the Ottoman Empire. The play’s main character, Jason Karras is based on famous New York journalist Herbert Bayard Swope who is known for his role in exposing corruption in the NYPD. In real life Swope was sent to cover Germany in 1914; Smoger sends him to the Ottoman Empire.

Smoger recently workshopped the play in San Francisco with director Kevin McGuire. “The Golden Gate Bridge was just outside, you could smell the bay, all of that was accessible but no one left during intermission,” said Smoger. “I take that as a good sign.”

Smoger told The Alt that setting the play between the Ottoman Empire and New York allowed for a host of varied musical numbers that reflect the time period and culture. “In places where everyone is one the edge, where there is a sense of impending doom, I find that there is also a lot of celebration,” said Smoger. “It’s a way to escape through dance and drink. And we capture that here.”

While it was McGuire who had faith in Smoger’s script and decided to host its debut at Cap Rep, Smoger sees debuting the play in Albany as a matter of fate.  

One of the real Armenians featured in the play–Badveli Nokhoudian survived the genocide and eventually emigrated to America and settled in Troy, NY. What brought him to Troy? Nokhoudian’s childhood friend Jack Akullian owned several stores called Grand Cash Markets and promised he could provide Nokhoudian’s family with work. In 1981, the Grand Cash Market was converted to the Capital Repertory Theater.

Some People Hear Thunder will run at Capital Repertory Theatre from April 28 to May 21.

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