Old Friends Dukakis, Ayvazian Are a Clash Act

Washington Post, DC
March 30 2004

Old Friends Dukakis, Ayvazian Are a Clash Act

By Jane Horwitz
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, March 30, 2004; Page C05

Olympia Dukakis and Leslie Ayvazian have been friends and colleagues
for more than 20 years. At the moment they’re in Alexandria, where
Ayvazian’s “Rosemary and I” will have its world premiere. It opens
Sunday at MetroStage and runs through May 9.

Ayvazian, whose plays include “Nine Armenians” and “Lovely Day,”
performed her solo show “High Dive” at MetroStage last season. She
will also act in “Rosemary and I,” a four-character memory piece
partly inspired by her mother’s childhood. Dukakis is directing with
Nancy Robillard, who will continue rehearsals when the busy
Oscar-winning actress has to be away for a day or two.

Dukakis is known for her honored 1987 turn in “Moonstruck” and other
film and TV roles, but she also has been steeped in classical and
experimental theater. She founded and ran the Whole Theatre Company
in Montclair, N.J., for 19 years.

“It’s very collaborative, actually, very collaborative,” says Dukakis
of the process underway at MetroStage. “Sometimes the play is taking
new turns that Leslie didn’t expect. . . . We disagree sometimes, we
try this, we try a compromise. . . . I think the trick is to let go
of things.”

One day last week, raised voices thundered through the closed doors
of the theater just after the day’s rehearsals had begun. The
outburst was not part of the script. It was Dukakis and Ayvazian
having words. Moments later, they were pals again.

“We got very excited and then all of a sudden we were differing on
one point and it escalated to this top level,” recalls Ayvazian. “It
was like a storm blew through, and in many ways both of us were both
rocked by it and cleared by it and . . . ended up feeling closer than

“There are not many people you can come to pitched emotion with,”
says Ayvazian of her son’s godmother. “We’re remarkable friends.”

In “Rosemary and I,” a woman, Julia (played by Ayvazian), tries to
conjure memories of her childhood and to understand the vague sense
of neglect she always felt because her mother, Rosemary, a concert
singer, traveled constantly. Julia also muses about Rosemary’s
accompanist, a woman with whom the singer shared an unexplored

Ayvazian’s maternal grandmother was a singer, and she believes “there
was some feeling about my mother missing her mother.” The rest of the
play is Ayvazian’s invention.

“The play comes from the work that Olympia and I have done together,
which is the investigation of ancient mythology and . . . what it is
for a woman to try to find her voice, even if her voice isn’t within
the normal spectrum of what is correct for a woman,” Ayvazian says.

She and Dukakis did a series of workshops that explored the duality
of the female psyche through the mythology of two ancient Sumerian
goddesses. They represent “the two aspects of the feminine. . . .
It’s usually the sexually aggressive part, the rage, the pain that
somehow women are not supposed to walk around with,” Dukakis says.

The question in “Rosemary and I,” Ayvazian says, is “can women live
fully and can men live fully and can we help each other do that by
not denying aspects of ourselves?”

A Real ‘Homebody’

For a year or more, Brigid Cleary was “perfectly happy” just making
people laugh in the farce “Shear Madness” at the Kennedy Center. A
few months ago, she and her family were in the middle of a move to a
part of Calvert County that she calls “as close to Mayberry as I
think exists.” Her phone wasn’t installed yet.

Then one night stage manager Jeanette Buck told Cleary that Howard
Shalwitz of Woolly Mammoth had been trying to reach her. They needed
an actress to perform the daunting monologue “Homebody,” the first
half of Tony Kushner’s “Homebody/Kabul.”

Shalwitz faxed Cleary a few pages of the script; she read it and
thought, “Oh my Lord.” But a fellow “Madness” cast member prodded her
— “Are you an actor or not?” — and she took the plunge into
Kushner’s “incredible, lush . . . kaleidoscope” of words.

The “Homebody” is a middle-class London housewife who shares with the
audience her utter fascination with the ancient city of Kabul, her
estrangement from her family and her near-psychotic obsession with
words. “She is telling a couple of stories at once, but all leading
to making a decision,” Cleary says.

“I’m more of a patter-song type person, and this is an aria,” Cleary
observes. “There are sentences that are half a page long.” She began
practicing the monologue on her long commutes and credits director
John Vreeke with guiding her through the thicket in rehearsals.

Woolly Mammoth’s production with Theater J runs through April 11 at
the D.C. Jewish Community Center.

Cleary has been acting on Washington area stages for about 25 years.
Frequent theatergoers will remember her perfectly timed delivery in
productions of “The Women” at Studio Theatre and Arena Stage, where
she also did “Expecting Isabel.” She’s become known for comic roles.

“I think I kind of become whatever I need to become in a role,”
Cleary says. “I never thought of myself as a comic actress, and I was
always amazed that people didn’t think there was a matching flipside
to that.”

In May she will appear in “The Cripple of Inishmaan” at Studio and
may rejoin “Shear Madness” after that. “I am going to treat my career
like I do my yoga classes,” Cleary says. “. . . I’m going to keep
becoming more and more limber, more and more able — until I can’t.”