BY ARAM KOUYOUMDJIAN
“Ser Yev Dzidzagh” (Love and Laughter) is not a play that Yervant Odian – the Armenian satirist who forever dwells in Hagop Baronian’s shadow – ever wrote; rather, it is an amalgam of three of his works. Still, as staged by the Ardavazt Theatre Company, it proves to be a lively piece of entertainment that offers genuine laughs – and a welcome respite from the lackluster scripts that have hampered the troupe’s last few outings.
I first have to commend the production for its prompt start time. I have been on a warpath for a while now against “Armenian time,” a ridiculous term that bespeaks tardiness due to disorganization. So it was a pleasure to watch the lights dim and the performance begin within a minute or two of the appointed hour.
Speaking of time, the play itself is dated, unfolding in Constantinople during the early years of the 20th century (or the final years of the sultanate). The colloquial Armenian of the script is peppered with Turkish words, and the writing frequently engages the clash of Western and Eastern sensibilities (alafranga versus alaturca).
The plot depicts the flurry of matchmaking that ignites when the daughter of a reputable family comes of marrying age. Competing matchmakers – seeking to score a fee – propose competing suitors, dividing the girl’s father and mother into opposing camps. The girl herself, however, likes neither suitor, having already chosen a different beau for herself.
By the second act, this set-up is almost derailed when the play indulges a tangential plotline about the illegitimate offspring of an ancient affair, who has returned for some blackmail. Fortunately, director Krikor Satamian keeps the production on track by setting a crisp pace for the action, which his energetic cast laudably keeps up.
The production provides a fine showcase for actors of a certain age, as Roupen Harmandayan, Alex Khorchidian, Vako Nazar, and Satamian himself bring authenticity to Odian’s world of (clueless) patriarchy. The younger cast members are generally outmatched, except for Narine Avakian, who fires off zingers with precision comic timing, and Arpi Samuelian, who exhibits a commanding and vivacious stage presence in a breakthrough role.
Backdrop projections make for a slick scenic design, eliminating the need for cumbersome set changes and furthering the considerable strides the company has been making with regard to its aesthetic.
Not since “The Venetian Twins” has an Ardavazt production worked on so many levels. The audience around me certainly seemed to think so, responding to the performance with hearty laughter and loving applause. “Ser Yev Dzidzagh,” indeed.
Aram Kouyoumdjian is the winner of Elly Awards for both playwriting (“The Farewells”) and directing (“Three Hotels”). His latest work is “Happy Armenians.”