BY ARAM KOUYOUMDJIAN
Over the course of the past dozen years, Anahid Aramouni Keshishian has been sharing her autobiography through solo performances under the heading “Ka Yev Chka” (There Is and There Isn’t) – a reference to the opening words of traditional Armenian fables. The first piece, which premiered in 2007, focused on Keshishian’s early life in pre-revolutionary Iran, while the sequel, performed in 2013, recounted her family’s immigration to – and life in – then-Soviet Armenia.
“Ka Yev Chka 1+2+3…,” which opened last weekend for a six-performance run at ARC Glendale through March 22, completes the triptych. Structured in three (uninterrupted) acts, the new work revisits terrain that the preceding pieces had covered before devoting its latter part to Keshishian’s life in the U.S.
Memories that stretch through Keshishian’s teenage years make up the first act of the performance. They include recollections of home life, school days, friendships and infatuations, and the echo of world affairs (such as the Kennedy assassination).
The second act takes us to Soviet Armenia, where the family moves in the late 1960s, while one of Keshishian’s brothers stays behind. The wrenching departure is one of several episodes of separation that Keshishian poignantly recalls throughout the piece. Culture shock awaits the family in Armenia: a repressive regime, a lack of provisions, and struggles with integration – all compounded by the debilitating illness that disables Keshishian’s father.
Desperate to get out, Keshishian finally resettles in the U.S., and this chapter of her life comprises the third act. The transition to yet another country doesn’t prove easy: Keshishian is again set apart as an Other, an immigrant who speaks limited English (with an accent), a transplant from Armenia unfamiliar with the structures and habits of the diaspora. Nevertheless, she embraces the freedom and opportunity she encounters, tackling with gusto a whole slew of jobs (including dishwasher and waitress), relishing the apartment she rents on her own (adorned with a single chair – her sole piece of furniture), and creeping underneath her car’s frame to fix mechanical problems. Ensuing years are glossed over rather quickly, though Keshishian speaks fondly of her multiple return visits to Armenia since its independence.
Well-paced at 95 minutes and blissfully punctuated with humor, this latest iteration of “Ka Yev Chka” benefits from the compressed format; the script conveys a profound sense of nostalgia yet manages to avoid turning maudlin. However, the vignettes that comprise the piece frequently fade away, rather than seamlessly flowing into one another. The composition lacks an overarching structure; its main motif is Keshishian reminiscing her way through a family album.
Keshishian has grown considerably as a performer during the years that have passed since the earlier iterations of her shows. Whereas she frustratingly used to rely on a computer screen as a teleprompter—a dependence that kept her from freely moving around the stage—she has mastered the text this time and, as a result, is able to traverse the playing area, communicate more directly with her audience, and create a more engaging form of storytelling.
An evocative component of that storytelling is music, which Keshishian has used extensively in all three of her solo shows. While the music cues are shorter and better integrated with the text than they were in the previous outings, they are still far too numerous and even disruptive at times, drowning out Keshishian’s voice in the space.
Ultimately, what emerges through the personal stories of “Ka Yev Chka 1+2+3…” is an oral history of the diaspora through the lens of Keshishian’s unique life journey. Her relationship with the homeland is truly complex, a cycle of yearning and disillusion. “I have loved and rejected our homeland,” she says in the production’s most striking and honest line. Still, she looks upon independent Armenia with affection – and with a hope that sustains her in the diaspora.
Aram Kouyoumdjian is the winner of Elly Awards for both playwriting (“The Farewells”) and directing (“Three Hotels”). His most recent work, “Constantinople,” is slated for its world premiere this fall.