Notes From Hairenik
February 27, 2006
Last night I had the privilege of seeing a play I had been meaning to check out for nearly a year now but never managed to due to schedule conflicts. The name of the play is called “Contrabass,” and is a one-man show performed by Hovhannes Babakhanyan. It played at the Yerevan City Hall’s Young Audience’s State Theater (you have to love the theater and university names here, which are typically long and usually include the phrase “named after” in honor of a literary figure or scholar), located at 3 Moscovyan Street.

The one-act play, which was written by Patrik Zyuskind, tells the story of a musician, who according to his testimony, has been cursed with the desire to play the contrabass, otherwise known as the double bass or upright bass. He complains of his position in the state symphony orchestra, being situated in the rear right corner, unnoticed by anyone in attendance, including the substantially robust mezzo-soprano opera singer who occasionally takes the stage in accompaniment, the woman with whom he is in love. Instead he remains committed to his bass, and laments about his love affair with the gargantuan instrument that had long ago become an albatross around his neck. The musician’s lecture is interrupted frequently by raving rants about his frustrations with life as well as his plight to wield a device capable of emitting such profound beauty, not to mention possessing sex appeal, yet completely awkward when it comes to maneuverability. He rejects making the transition to jazz or rock where the instrument holds significantly more prominence in the orchestra, as he remains committed to the thought that the bass belongs to the classical genre, despite its obscurity as a soloist instrument.

Hovik Babakhanyan never ceases to amaze me on stage or in film. I first noticed him about four years ago in the lead role of the film “Herostratus” directed by Rouben Kochar, which was screened at Moscow Cinema (the film review of which and that I wrote can he found here). I have also seen him in the plays “Julius Caeser,” “Macbeth,” and “The Proud Beggars.” However, judging from the eccentric roles he chooses, notably in the last-mentioned play, the film, and last night’s performance, his element is comedic drama tinged with tragedy. His performance as Macduff in Shakespeare’s notoriously intense “Macbeth” was way over the top, and he did not excel to the levels he had in the other more complex roles he played. Nevertheless, his presence as an excellent actor cannot be overlooked by any means, as all great performers eventually encounter jobs that in the end do not pay off artistically. His voice can also be heard regularly in Armenian-dubbed recently released films broadcasted by Armenia’s public television station, Channel 1.

“Contrabass” is performed a few times a year, usually every three months or so, and as far as I can remember there is usually more than one performance during a single run. Simply put it’s a great play and is definitely worth seeing. Audience members also have the opportunity to hear Hovik perform “Ave Maria” and the jazz standard “When I Fall In Love.” Apparently he is currently studying voice at one of the music conservatories in Yerevan.

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