Is Armenian theater in Los Angeles maturing in a way that it can hold up a mirror to the community in which it thrives and satirize its follies? There are signs of this. Earlier this year, the Arvest Gang served up “Out of the Cage,” a splendid evening of sketch comedy, in Armenian, that skewered various attributes of our collective ethnic existence. Then came “The Big Bad Armo Show,” comedienne Lory Tatoulian’s impressive pastiche of skits, in English, which ended a limited encore engagement at Casitas Studios in Atwater on Saturday night.
Tatoulian, an accomplished solo performer, not only starred in “The Big Bad Armo Show,” but wrote and directed it. In helming her first ensemble piece, she was wise enough to surround herself with a uniformly talented cast and generous enough to share the spotlight. What she delivered was irreverent satire that featured many winning sketches – including an uproarious spoof of Armenian mating rituals – albeit with some in need of further chiseling.
Mating in the Wild,” an audaciously crafted Animal Planet segment that chose Armenians as its featured species, was the evening’s pièce de résistance, with Voki Kalfayan, sporting an Australian accent, playing host and narrator. Kalfayan’s perfect delivery owed a great deal to Tatoulian’s razor-sharp writing, which made targets of the hesitancy, awkwardness, insecurity, and materialism that often mark – and mar – the process of Armenian coupling.
Kalfayan was equally memorable as one of two contenders in the Olympic-style “Pourvar Competition” – the pourvar being the thurible, or incense container, utilized in Armenian church services. Staged like a face-off between deacons of the Diocese and the Prelacy – with running sports commentary, no less – the sketch was a bit too long in build-up and gentle in its jabs, but stood out for its daring and originality.
Tatoulian herself carried several of the best sketches, including a version of “That’s Amore,” the song made famous by Dean Martin and cleverly reworked here as “That’s Amote” (It’s a Shame). She took aim at artificially cheerful children’s entertainment in “Aline and Friends,” alternating light jokes (in the form of double entendres) with heavy punches, best illustrated by a xenophobic song dedicated to “Bob the Odar.” She drew big laughs with her signature character, the Dandeegeen, which lampoons the stereotype of vapid Armenian housewives. In an inspired move, Dandeegeen was the subject of a video segment parodying “MTV Cribs,” the showcase of celebrity homes. In the video, Dandeegeen prances around her abode atop “the hills of the Glendale,” waxing nostalgic in her living room (or “sahlon”), then moving into the kitchen to make coffee and force-feed the camera crew members cheese sandwiches, while pontificating on all things Armenian.
Not all the skits worked as well, but even lesser-polished ones contained hidden gems. For instance, the show’s opening segment, depicting a newly-formed organization of Armenian losers, was hesitant; however, it afforded Kalfayan a chance to show off zany footwork as Gary the Shourchbar King and for Tatoulian to introduce Sossi, a new, deliciously trashy character, and her low-rent husband, Seto, portrayed with fine flair by Raffi Rupchian.
The show could have done without a Harout Pamboukjian impersonation and with a lower dosage of Kim Kardashian (which would have allowed broader use of Anaïs Thomassian’s considerable comedic skills elsewhere), and it could have streamlined segments like “Inside Cinema Today,” especially since that particular sketch, despite its great concept – deconstructing, as the works of a film auteur, commercial ads for mattresses and car lots – fell short of its potential.
There is no limit to that potential – neither for Tatoulian nor her show. Tatoulian is a savvy observer of our community’s typical behaviors and idiosyncrasies, and “The Big Bad Armo Show” captured those behaviors and idiosyncrasies with finesse, stylistic richness, and variety. It was, in fact, a sociological mirror – one that came with laughs. That’s fortunate, since our community can always benefit from better seeing – and making fun of – its reflection.
Editor’s Note: Aram Kouyoumdjian is the winner of Elly Awards for both playwriting (“The Farewells”) and directing (“Three Hotels”). His latest work is “Velvet Revolution.”