Dorset's "Out of the City" a thoughtful comedy

DORSET -- Dorset Theatre Festival continues the summer season with its commitment to new play development in the world premiere of Leslie Ayvazian's "Out of the City." The show, billed as a fun and provocative summer comedy, is directed by DTF artistic and executive director Dina Janis.

Playwright/actress Ayvazian, a Rogers Award and Blackburn Prize honoree who also teaches graduate-level theatre at Columbia University, is widely known for her hit play "Nine Armenians." Her latest offering serves up much of the sharp, incisive dialogue of her earlier works.

It is, importantly, not a farce, but an exposition of serious themes cloaked in giggles, chuckles, and even a few guffaws.

The action finds two couples going out of the city to celebrate Carol's (Ayvazian) 60th birthday at a bed and breakfast in the Poconos. Joining are her husband Matt (Mark Blum) and their friends Jill (Janet Zarish) and Dan (John Procaccino).

Something happens that changes everything. It affects each individual, both couples, and every permutation and combination of gender roles and relationship dynamics on a rollercoaster ride of self-discovery. While laughing our way through the clever repartee, we find ourselves thinking of our own priorities, bonds, and yes, even our mortality.

Ayvazian, who started all the fun with Carol's first scatological utterance within five minutes of curtain time, struck the right chord of quiet angst in growing older, and a simmering suggestive inner struggle that never let the sexual realm wander too far off.

We expect Ayvazian to know how to deliver lines she has written. What pleased us most, though, was how she looked out at the rest of us with blank stare and wide mouth, telling us more than her lines ever could.

Obie-winner Blum's haltingly delivered Matt was a perfect complement to wife Carol, an understatement to her forceful, loud, big-hair stage presence. His moments of lone rock throwing into the lake were as poignant as Matt's later boldness and reversal were out of character. Importantly, he was utterly convincing in the switch for one role to the other.

Zarish, who delighted Dorset audiences a few years back in "The Whore and Mr.Moore" once again brought her own witty yet undeniably sensual presence to the play. She remains a commanding stage presence, a magnet for all eyes to take in her every movement, and all senses to crave her next line. Particularly in scenes with Carol and Jill, Zarish's timing enhances the play's humor while hitting home with Ayvazian's underlying message.

Finally, in a master stroke of casting, Procaccino was so convincing as the no-doubt-about-it regular dude high school basketball coach that I wanted to run out back with him to shoot some hoops. The man deadpanned lines to perfection, rolled his eyes into our approval, and left no doubt he was not only a guy's guy, but also nobody's fool. Procaccino's comic delivery was exquisite; his acting superb.

Narelle Sissons' set, like so many others at DTF, was multifunctional in practicality and aesthetic. The lake beach out front was cleverly portrayed. Teresa Snider-Stein's costumes fit each character's personality like gloves.

Michael Giannitti's lights followed their known path of excellence, and sound by Will Pickens was very effective - particularly the rock throwing into the lake. Joanna Obuzor is proving to be a first-rate stage manager

The show runs about 85 minutes with no intermission. Other than a small handful of missed, rewound or stuttered line deliveries on preview night, its technical aspects were demonstrably sound.

New plays can be tricky and fickle, so it will be interesting over time to see what changes Ms. Ayvazian brings to this work. Her serious subliminal messages shouldn't be lost on us in all the laughter, as they're an important part of the human experience, especially that of growing older.

So expect to laugh, but not the kind of belly-aching howls of a "Boeing-Boeing" or a "Noises Off," both recent and major hits at DTF. This play is a bit more subtle, and in the end, so much more thought-provoking than a farce that one must come out of the city to bucolic Dorset and see for themselves.

"Out of the City," runs through July 19 at Dorset Theatre Festival, 104 Cheney Rd. in Dorset. For tickets and information call 802-867-2223, or visit

Telly Halkias is the Stage Names drama critic and an award-winning freelance journalist. E-mail: Twitter: @TellyHalkias


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