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Rosemary and I

by Rich See

Starting with a woman.
---Leslie Ayvazian as Julia comes to terms with her past through a creative process

Judith Roberts, Sam Groom, Leslie Ayvazian and Jewell Robinson
J. Roberts, S. Groom, L. Ayvazian and J. Robinson
(Photo: Christopher O. Banks)

In its little theatre beside the kayak shop, Metro Stage is presenting a most delightful theatrical production with the world premiere of Leslie Ayvazian's Rosemary and I. It's a touching comedy about a woman coming to terms with her mother's lesbian relationship and in the process developing her own voice and sense of self. The entire play flows smoothly, much like the vocal harmonies that float through the air throughout the performance.

The plot set up is very straightforward. After a recent divorce, Julia (played by Miss Ayvazian) has rented a room to sit, play solitaire, and write. At the same time she is also going through her mother's belongings, which she now possesses. Using the belongings as creative spurs she is attempting to write a play and the play becomes her own internal discussion about her childhood and her parents lives. It's through these conversations we learn her mother Rosemary (Judith Roberts) was a famous singer who traveled extensively. And its through these conversations we learn that, while still a young woman, Rosemary met Julia's dashing father (Sam Groom) and quickly married, but eventually fell in love with her accompanist and traveling companion Elizabeth (Jewell Robinson).

Ayvazian has an almost magical way of writing that relies on the subtle movement of language. The shifts in her characters' personalities seem not to come so much from breakthrough moments, but more from a gentle eroding of their defenses. Thus we learn that Rosemary and Elizabeth never physically consummated their relationship except with a kiss in a park in Paris. They never spoke of the kiss, but after this brief interlude would quietly hold hands while walking down the street or simply spend time together enjoying each other's company. It's through reading her mother's diary that Julia learns all this and begins to connect the dots of her parents marriage: her father's affair, her own isolation in her room trying to get her parents' attention, the reasons Elizabeth was always around the home, and eventually the outcome of the two women's relationship.

Rosemary and I has been in development with Metro Stage for a year and a half and the theatre and playwright have put a great deal of love and work into the creation. Although the play's not perfect, that dedication is quite apparent. While Ayvazian shies away from having her characters engage in anything more than a kiss, she does offer a lyrical, poetic dialogue that shows the deeper longing between the two women. Gay audience members will see she ends the play like so many other mainstream stories about gay lovers; however Ayvazian does offer us hope that Julia will eventually come to accept and honor her mother's love interest and maybe even come to appreciate the role all three adults had in shaping her life.

Co-directors Olympia Dukakis and Nancy Robillard have pulled together a very sweet production. The small cast fits together perfectly, the humor is at times quite subtle, and the pacing of the dialogue and action is done at times leisurely, as if savoring the moment and the writing.

James Kronzer's set is simple and wonderfully highlighted by Chris Lee's lighting. The soft lighting highlights the pale blue drapes, steel bench, and neutral carpeting on the stage. The various lighting colors which range from blue to purple and then gold overtones, create nice effects on the smoky tinted backdrop as well as upon Marilyn Salvatore's costumes. Ms. Salvatore's wardrobe has the three older adults wearing pastels, tans, silvers, and pale greens, while Miss Ayvazian wears a bright red blouse.

The original score by John Hodian and vocals by Bet Williams are moving and quite beautiful. And while Metro Stage has other works by Mr. Hodian and Miss Williams available for purchase, you wish they had the play's soundtrack on CD.

In the role of Julia, Miss Ayvazian brings a level of understanding and humor that turns what could be a self-pitying character into a person who simply desires to understand her past. You don't tire of Julia, which is something that could happen if too much emphasis was placed upon the character's perceived hurt and pain.

Judith Roberts excels in the title role of Rosemary. She brings just the right amount of self-absorption and airiness to the role of a singer being taken care of by outside forces and thus, ironically, never quite realizing her own voice or internal strength. She also provides a sarcastic sense of "Julia get over it already." which balances out her daughter's self-anguish.

Sam Groom is terrific in the role of Papa. Mr. Groom's Papa is a fastidious man who wants everything in it's place...and then not to be moved. It's a role that could easily come across as one-dimensional, but Mr. Groom shows us the character is attempting to understanding the world through orderly control. When he states "I am here." and then "This is my spot." you see Papa's vanity as well as his vulnerability in a heartbeat.

Jewell Robinson offers us an Elizabeth that is both graceful and determined. Although the accompanist, her's is the voice that will not leave Julia until recognized. And Miss Robinson shines in helping us see how Elizabeth is a woman Rosemary loves and who in turn adores Rosemary, while also being someone whom Julia has been in competition with her entire life.

Rosemary and I is a lyrically sweet production and one that offers us something we so seldom see these days -- an almost entire cast of older actors highlighting a story about older people. In a culture that seems to concentrate on people between the ages of 20 and 45, we forget about the rich stories people over 50 and 60 have to offer us. Metro Stage is currently providing us with a nice reminder of this.

Rosemary and I
by Leslie Ayvazian
Score by John Hodian
Directed by Olympia Dukakis and Nancy Robillard
starring Leslie Ayvazian, Judith Roberts, Sam Groom, and Jewell Robinson
Vocalist: Bet Williams
Accompanist: John Hodian
Set Design: James Kronzer
Lighting Design: Chris Lee
Costume Design: Marilyn Salvatore
Sound Design: Matt Rowe
Property Design: Dayana Yochim
Running Time: 1 hour and 15 minutes with no intermission
Metro Stage, 1201 North Royal Street, Alexandria
Telephone: 1-800-494-8497
THUR - SAT @8, SUN @2 & 7; $32 - $38
Opening 04/01/04, closing 05/09/04
Reviewed by Rich See based on 04/10/04 performance
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