There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
There are people in whom no two words strike more dread than “audience participation.” Imagine, then, the flop-sweat potential in High Dive, actress and playwright Leslie Ayvazian’s one-woman-memoir-cum-performance-piece, now in production at MetroStage, which requires the assistance of 34 audience members to play supporting roles. Rest easy, though: Ayvazian works the lobby before the show, asking people to play parts and handing out script pages—no one is thrust into the spotlight involuntarily. Those who agree read short lines of dialogue, forming a kind of Greek chorus of friends, relatives, and strangers witnessing Ayvazian’s often comic misadventures. Ayvazian, dressed in a plain black tunic and slacks, plays herself, alone on a bare stage that represents a diving platform at a hotel pool in Greece, where her family is vacationing. She, her husband, and her son have gone out to the pool because “the view of the Aegean from our balcony is too hot to look at.” As she prepares to jump, she reminisces about other leaps she’s taken in life, most of them vacations ruined by acts of nature. When her new husband suggested taking a camping trip across the country, the city-bred actress agreed, rationalizing, “I imagined that I was, perhaps without knowing it, a person who would like to do that.” Of course, she wasn’t. Nor would she enjoy subsequent holidays interrupted by earthquakes, hurricanes, locusts, or the 112-degree heat of Greece in August. Armenians, she tells us, are not adventurous by nature. Her ancestors were happy to remain in Armenia, and when forced to leave, they journeyed only as far as New Jersey, where they were happy to stay. Yet Ayvazian chose a career—and a life—that requires her to dive regularly into the unknown. As she white-knuckled it atop that diving platform that day in Greece, she realized she had the perfect metaphor for at least a dozen of her personal fish-out-of-water stories. An engaging storyteller, with an expressive voice and dancelike gestures, Ayvazian radiates self-deprecating charm. As for the other 34 cast members, their interaction is central to the evening’s concept. A particularly good line reading, for example, will cause Ayvazian to stop, share the laugh with the audience, and say “Thank you” before continuing. Sometimes the other players get laughs, but sometimes, like the heat waves, hurricanes, and floods, they throw a wrench into Ayvazian’s plans. (“People have fallen asleep before getting to their lines,” Ayvazian has said. “One woman walked onstage to do her lines….If things go awry, it’s just part of the price.”) And because the audience lines are never more than a brief sentence, you don’t get a clear impression of the characters they speak for. The son talks most often, but for the most part, he’s just urging his mother to jump into the pool. The husband, who turned down Ayvazian’s marriage proposal the first time, is also shrouded in mystery. As adventurous as Ayvazian is timid, he carries all the luggage, does all the driving, cooks all the camp food, and might be expected to run out of patience from time to time. Yet you infer that theirs is a happy marriage—it’s lasted 27 years. Intriguing as that relationship is, though, High Dive is really more about the one between Ayvazian and her audience. On opening night, with participants gamely hamming it up, neither the star nor her supporting cast seemed too much in need of fresh dress shields.—Janet Hopf