BY ARAM KOUYOUMDJIAN
With a shout-out to her fellow Armenians – “my people” – Andrea Martin charmed her way through her cabaret-style show last week at the Samueli Theater of the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa.
“Final Days! Everything Must Go!” was a piece of modern-day vaudeville, featuring character sketches, songs, bits of improvisation, and a sprinkling of audience participation – all infused with Martin’s infectious energy and sense of fun.
Martin is a star of film (“My Big Fat Greek Wedding”), television (“SCTV”), and Broadway (“My Favorite Year”), and has collected a pair of Emmy Awards and a Tony during the course of her vastly successful career. I had caught one of her memorable Broadway performances a few years back in “Exit the King,” an absurdist Eugene Ionesco play in which she starred opposite Oscar winners Geoffrey Rush and Susan Sarandon.
Photo and video projections of Martin’s stage and screen experiences were woven into “Final Days!” and complemented its live portions. They showed Martin amidst the ranks of comedy giants Eugene Levy and Gilda Radner, and in the company of Mel Brooks, in whose musical version of “Young Frankenstein” she appeared.
Whether recounting career highlights or reviving Edith Prickley, one of her enduring characters, Martin was all exuberance. Yet, she achieved moments of poignancy as well, particularly when discussing family. She described her younger self as a “chubby shy Armenian girl” born in Portland, Maine, to a family whose immigrant roots stretched to the early decades of the 20th century. Martin did not delve into that family history – perhaps because its themes were too heavy for light cabaret fare. She made loving mention of her two grown sons, but touched on the struggle to balance career demands and family obligations only in passing.
The show could have used a little more structure and a stronger narrative thread to enhance its emotional lift. But its focus was comedy, and on that front, it delivered winning vignettes at a steady clip. One minute, Martin would be portraying a sexologist; the next, belting out a tune or teaching Greek dancing to rhythm-challenged audience members.
Indeed, the vivaciousness of Martin’s stage presence revealed the irony of her show’s title. Final days? Hardly. Martin’s talent is ample enough to see us through the next several decades.
Aram Kouyoumdjian is the winner of Elly Awards for both playwriting (“The Farewells”) and directing (“Three Hotels”). His latest work is “Happy Armenians.”