Monday, August 31, 2015

Shake the Earth


Shake the EarthWritten and performed by Lousine Shamamian
Presented by Arev Productions, Inc., in association with The New York International Fringe Festival – FringeNYC
Directed by Misti B. Wills

Nothing’s more interesting than a dramatic juxtaposition. One of the best sorts is the abutment of the personal and the historical. It can put our lives in perspective. It throws the ordinary into a sort of dramatic relief.

In her interesting one-woman show Shake the Earth, presented by Arev Productions in association with The New York International Fringe Festival, Lousine Shamamian stands on stage and tells us about coming out as a lesbian to her Armenian mother. Pretty standard for the form, which used to be called performance art. But she does something more interesting as well: she talks about the Armenian genocide, relating her great-grandfather’s experiences in 1915.

She begins with her personal story. “There are no gay people in Armenia”, her mother tells her after reading her diary. She describes her family, Armenian dishes, her first crushes on girls. She describes herself as a child reciting poetry for her family: “When you speak, it has to shake the earth” she’s told.

But she manages to find her way back a few generations to describe the horrors of 1915. The transitions between the personal and historic are quick, but they never feel forced or false.

Sometimes she speaks to us in her own person, as the actress herself. Sometimes she takes on characters, but she never really acts; she keeps them at a distance. She’s at her best when she takes on the character of her great-grandfather Georgi as a young man. She shows him going from doors to door looking for his sister, the only member of his family to survive the massacre by the Turks. She’s in character, but barely; she can address horror by holding it at bay.

She even makes us laugh during her story of the genocide, and she manages to do it respectfully. She never looks for sympathy and she never trivializes. She simply bears witness to the event after the fact.

It’s odd that Ms. Shamamian never makes explicit the tie-in between the Armenians and gays as persecuted groups. It would make for an interesting moment. Misti B. Willis’ direction is crisp, but there are still passages when the show lacks definition, when Ms. Shamamian doesn't make much of an impact. But Shake the Earth is very good.

Steve Capra
August 2015