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Friday, August 21, 2015

Out on the Fringe: Shamamian shakes the earth she loves

Louisine Shamamian
(photo: Kyle MaKrauer)

Courage can take many different forms. Comic Louisine Shamamian binds together distinct forms of true courage in her new monologue, Shake the Earth (FringeNYC), directed by Misti B. Wills. But don't expect one of her standup routines or her offbeat "lesbian matchmaker to the straights" videos.

While Shake the Earth has sweetly amusing moments, its Armenia-born writer-performer earnestly imparts two stories--her immigrant youth and coming out in Brooklyn and the Turkish oppression and slaughter of its Armenian population, including members of her family. This year marks the centenary of the Armenian genocide, a crime still denied by the Turkish government. In fact, in today's Turkey, it's criminal to even breathe the words "Armenian genocide." Shamamian breaks all silence--personal and political.

First, she charms us with family portraits and vignettes. As a kid, her red shock of hair and her size made her stand out; her kin called her "a red round tomato." There were enormous, festive gatherings with "women cooking for days." She recites a litany of food and its flavorful ingredients, the music, the dancing. You know how it goes--familial and, even to this Bajan-American, instantly familiar, the same sort of memories for many in an audience hailing from around the American melting pot.

Curious about the odd eating habits of one relative, the young Shamamian began asking questions and eventually researching the genocide with a "passion for a mythical place," her Armenia. At the same time, another life-altering passion stirred--a crush on a beautiful Black butch who returned her interest. Her sweetheart "didn't entertain shame." They became the first openly queer couple in their high school.

Shamamian took a big step in coming out to her mother. I don't know if the comic is aware of this, but her mom's initial reaction ("There are no gay people in Armenia!") syncs up perfectly with the words of comedian Margaret Cho's mom ("There are no gays in Korea!") in Cho's I'm The One That I Want performance. Some day, these two mothers--both of whom came around because they love their daughters--should really get together.

On occasion, Shamamian falls into a didactic tone that feels arid and artificial. There must be more efficient ways to impart facts than these flat, inserted teachings. (Expand the brief notes on genocide in your program? Project some text on the curtain behind you?) But she hits her high point with a recounting of one man's amazing escape from a Turkish work camp near Aleppo, Syria. We learn the source of her dedication to accurate history and honesty about the continued threat to Armenians and Kurds.

"Hold this information with me today," she says. "It is all I ask."

In accordance, each audience member receives a forget-me-not pin--the centennial symbol not only of past suffering but also the hoped-for unity, futurity and eternity of the Armenian people.

Remaining performances of Shake the Earth:

Saturday, August 22 (7pm)
Monday, August 24 (2pm)
Saturday, August 29 (8:45 pm)

For information and tickets, click here or here.

Read an interview with Shamamian here.

For information on all programming of the 2015 New York International Fringe Festival (FringeNYC), continuing through August 30, click here.

121 Ludlow Street (between Delancey and Rivington Streets), 2nd floor,  Manhattan

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