BY ARAM KOUYOUMDJIAN
A disillusioned woman’s face-to-face confrontation with her younger self serves as the premise of Anahid Aramouni Keshishian’s intriguing play, “Ginuh” (The Woman), which concluded a three-weekend run at the Victory Theatre on April 3.
It’s not a particularly new premise; Michel Tremblay’s “Albertine in Five Times” and Edward Albee’s masterful “Three Tall Women” have covered similar ground. Nevertheless, the moody and contemplative piece by Keshishian, performed in Armenian, offers a provocative examination of a three-decade span marked by a loveless marriage and lost dreams.
The play’s structure allows the titular woman to relive memories of her youth – ranging from slights about her physical appearance to prospective dalliances with boys of her age – even as she recounts the heartbreak of ensuing years. She has settled in her choice of husband and has sacrificed her dreams to raise three children and to care for an ailing mother, bedridden for 13 years after a car crash. In mid-life, she feels lonely and unfulfilled. Now, a man from her past has reappeared in her life, and she is tempted to be unfaithful to her husband.
Foraying into existentialism, “The Woman” confronts the cruelties of aging and the diminution of the will to live, although the script’s greatest strength lies in its frank exploration of female identity. Keshishian engages with such topics as beauty and sexuality, including abusive transgressions and same-sex infatuations – topics that all-too-unfortunately remain taboo in Armenian-language plays, even in this day and age. Given this feminist bent, however, the play’s focus on boys and men as the defining figures in its title character’s life proves perplexing, and its climactic final sequence feels both underdeveloped and rushed.
Still, strong performances by Keshishian as the title character and by Lilit Arakelyan as her younger self fueled the play’s premier production. In large part, the action was briskly paced, and both actresses effectively captured the tone of the writing. But, at various points, the choreography of the piece lacked fluidity, mostly because Keshishian has remained resistant to working with a director (other than herself) when performing. She has been equally insistent on injecting her works with endless pieces of “evocative” music and snippets of dancing, which have become rather intrusive and self-indulgent attributes of her creations.
Yet with the right combination of humor, pathos, and aggression, “The Woman” succeeded as a layered portrayal of a character desperately seeking to save herself from the oppressive regrets of a life half-lived.
Aram Kouyoumdjian is the winner of Elly Awards for both playwriting (“The Farewells”) and directing (“Three Hotels”). His latest play, “Happy Armenians,” had its world premiere in Los Angeles this past October and was revived in Northern California in February.