Theater Review: Renamed Troupe Returns With ‘Aunt’ In Tow

Ari Libaridian as Jack and Aram Muradian in drag impersonating Donna Lucia

BY ARAM KOUYOUMDJIAN

Anyone who feared that the renaming of the Ardavazt Theatre Company last summer would signal a turn away from its history of staging low-brow farces can rest easy. Anyone who hoped that the newly-christened Krikor Satamian Theater Group would usher in an era of sophisticated fare can brace for disappointment.

Following a hiatus of sorts since 2011, when it successfully staged “Ser Yev Dzidzagh” (Love and Laughter), the troupe returns with “Charley’s Aunt,” a relic of a farce so tame that it’s a staple of high school and amateur community productions. Originally written in English by Brandon Thomas, it has been translated into Armenian by Krikor Satamian, who also directs. The production runs through July 14.

The play’s plot concerns two Oxford undergraduates, Charley Wykeham and Jack Chesney, who are hoping to court two young ladies, Amy and Kitty, while being chaperoned by Charley’s aunt, Donna Lucia d’Alvadorez, a rich widow visiting from Brazil. When the aunt’s arrival is delayed, however, Charley and Jack enlist their friend, Lord Fancourt Babberley, to don a dress and impersonate her in drag. Complications ensue, of course, when both Jack’s father and Amy’s father begin wooing Donna Lucia in order to tap her money. Little do they realize that Donna Lucia is actually Lord Babberley . . . at least until the real Donna Lucia shows up.

“Charley’s Aunt” bears a number of similarities to Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest,” even though it was written earlier and is no match for the later play’s wit. Satamian’s revival is amiable and amusing at times, but woefully low on laugh-out-loud moments. Its choreography is clunky, lacking the finesse of orchestrated chaos for which farcical scenes cry out. And it is hampered by several off-mark performances that either come across flat or, conversely, confuse mania for character development.

Fine work is done, however, by Maro Ajemian, who cuts a classy figure as Donna Lucia; Arpi Samuelian, who brings an understated level of charm to Kitty; and Kevork Keushkerian who portrays Amy’s comically villainous father with just the right touch of befuddlement. Still, the production’s true highlight is Aram Muradian’s mischievously fun turn as the fake Donna Lucia. I have praised Muradian’s versatility before, and I need only mention his last role – that of an intensely troubled former soldier in Khoren Aramouni’s “Patand” (The Hostage) – to illustrate his remarkable ability for transformation. His role has a heightened degree of difficulty, given that Muradian, who is a native speaker of Eastern Armenian, performs it in the Western dialect.

I would be remiss if I did not commend Manoug Satamian’s elaborate production design, which recreates two interior spaces and a garden. It’s a sign of the company’s growing professionalism, as is its laudable ability to start performances on time. That’s an achievement all Armenian organizations should emulate.

Aram Kouyoumdjian is the winner of Elly Awards for both playwriting (“The Farewells”) and directing (“Three Hotels”). His latest work is “Happy Armenians.”

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