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A CurtainUp Review
High Dive

Fifty is one of those turning point birthdays. I can think of a bunch of friends who never made a fuss over their birthdays, but threw themselves lavish parties to mark the occasion. I recall a New York woman whose husband was in the doldrums about his advancing age, rented a big poster in Times Square which announced that she loved him more than ever.

Playwright performer Leslie Ayvazian celebrated her recent fiftieth birthday by writing herself a script that she always wanted to do -- a one-person show with a very large cast. If this sounds like an oxymoron, go and see High Dive she has done exactly that. The pivotal event of the play is a family vacation in Greece when she was just three weeks short of fifty (with her big hair and trim figure she could declare herself to be thirty-nine without raising a questioning eyebrow).

An attempt to overcome her fear of heights by diving into the hotel pool, with her eleven-year-old son as cheer leader, prompts a humorous meditation about other disasters in her life. These anecdotes focus on other vacations, with some detours into her travels on the way to becoming a playwright-performer.

What about the large cast? She does indeed have thirty-five co-stars, recruited from the audience during the half hour preceding the show. Each of these "actors" is given a script with the lines of one of the characters bold-faced and marked in pink to be read at the appropriate moments. With Ms. Ayvazian herself, wearing her black velvet"show costume" and her irresistible smile, doing the recruiting almost a third of the people that the theater accommodates are easily persuaded to "jump in." (My husband agreed to do the three lines of the man who protested "you drilled the shingles off my house" during her anecdote about her stint as a cable installer). This audience participation angle has gimmick written all over it but since the show's underlying theme is adventure and risk-taking, it is a high-risk device that pays dividends and is, in fact, what makes High Dive so much fun that you tend to overlook that it's more than a tad thin on substance.

The show -before-the-show recruiting in the lobby, continues with a brief show before-the-show "rehearsal" during which Ms. Ayvazian introduces herself and explains to the uninitiated why some people are holding scripts and issues last-minute instructions to her cast: "There is no need to create an elaborate psychological profile for your character -- just be loud. If you're loud, you're perfect."

The anecdotes that follow illustrate the adventurous spirit beneath the author's surface aversion to adventure (she goes places and does things because she thinks that she ""might just be"the type of person who enjoys that sort of thing"). That sort of thing covers a lot of ground: an accident with a motorcycling college boyfriend. . .the inadvertently exciting holidays (e.g. tidal waves in Mexico, a cold snap in Florida and a hurricane in Hawaii). . .jobs that include a stint as a Vista volunteer, as a costume mistress for a dinner theater and a cable installer (leading to her interchange with my husband, "the shingle man"). . .and most hilariously, a no-win bid for the "$25,000 Pyramid" in partnership with an inebriated Peter Lawford.

Each anecdote brings us back to that diving board in Greece, a platform in the center of Neil Patel's subtle blue-tiled set, lit with a variety of shifts in weather by Brian MacDevitt to further suggest sunny hideaways. High Dive lacks the depth of Ayvazian's full-length play, Nine Armenians. In the final analysis, neither David Warren's direction or the script quite connect the underlying themes into a really meaningful whole. However, Ms. Ayvazian is an enticing performer with perfectly calibrated comic timing. By the time you come up for air from laughing with her, it's all over except for the applause so that what might be a major flaw is a mere quibble.

Nine Armenians
Marathon 2000-A (24 Years)
Marathon 1999-A (Deaf Day)

Written ad performed by Leslie Ayvazian
Directed by David Warren.

Set Design: Neil Patel
Lighting Design:Brian MacDevitt
Sound Design: Robert Murphy
Costume Consultant: Kristin Cahill
Running Time: 75 minutes, no intermission.
MCC Theater, 120 West 28th Street (6/7 Avs) 727-7765 --
2/01/01-3/25/01; opening 2/26/01.
Performances Thurs, Fri, Sat and Mon at 8pm; Sun at 3pm -- $20 pre-opening, $25 thereafter.

Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on 2/26 performance
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