From left: Jessica Hecht, Richard Masur, Candy Buckley
Here to torture, instruct and protect
Ayvazian inspired by the power of pounding music, high boots
By Jerry Tallmer
These boots were made for walking, and thats just what theyll do.
One of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you.
Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood, 1966
Everybody has a dirty little secret in Leslies Make Me.
Hank and Sissys dirty little secret is that they are all washed up and dont know it.
Eddie and Connies dirty little secret is that Eddie is too bored to take seriously the power games Connie pursues as soon as their two girls are packed off to school every morning. Indeed, he plays along until its too late.
Phils dirty little secret is Mistress Lorraine, the dominatrix to whose dungeon he goes to every day for punishment, by words and whip, for being a weak, lousy mayor of the New Jersey town in which they all live and Phil isnt his real name either.
The strands of these six lives, or three pairs Hank and Sissy, Eddie and Connie, Phil and Mistress Lorraine are crisscrossed together like intermeshing spiders webs by the playwright who did as much, and more, for those reality based Nine Armenians of her own personal bloodlines 13 years ago. There were no boots and whips in that poetic drama, except perhaps on the feet and in the hands of Turkish soldiers in 1915 slaughtering Armenians in the Forgotten Holocaust.
Here, in Make Me, at the Atlantic Stage 2 on Chelseas West 16th Street, it is to Mistress Lorraine in her Lower East Side dungeon in the midst of one of Phils groveling penitential sessions that Connie has come for instruction on how to wield a whip and make it sting, how to swagger-stride in those huge high dominating boots, all that.
So how did Connie find a dominatrix to study from? Why, on the Internet, of course just the way real-life Leslie Ayvazian, playwright and sometime actress, found a real-life dominatrix to educate the Make Me company in whip handling, boot swagger, and other such matters.
She comes to rehearsals and is absolutely fantastic, Ms. Ayvazian said one morning last week; just before heading for Providence, Rhode Island, for her sons graduation from Brown University.
One doesnt suppose your dominatrix taught the male actors how to whip.
No, the playwright replied dryly,
The first sparks of Nine Armenians and of Make Me had flashed upon her, she says, in different ways.
With Nine Armenians it was the single image of an Armenian-American family in the driveway of their house, packing a car with food and memories though they would only be separated a couple of hours.
I was away too much [as an actress] when my son was growing up. So I wrote Nine Armenians for him.
With Make Me it was several things. First, my son the lead guitarist and his rock band this loud, pounding music that normally I would not choose to be around. But here was my darling son, Ivan Anderson, making this music since he was in seventh grade, and now he was a senior at Brown!
Hed even composed music for me when I was driving a car, and with all this I started thinking in very literal terms about the kind of power in this throbbing, pounding music that Id found inspiring in a way I hadnt expected.
That was one component.
Another this will sound funny occurred when I was participating in an actors workshop with Olympia Dukakis six years ago, when Ivan was a senior in high school.
This woman came in I dont know her name, never did wearing these huge, high boots. She saw me eyeing them, and said to me: What size are you? and then handed them to me to wear. I started walking around the room, and as I walked I felt a kind of power. When I got back to my chair my shoes were gone and there was a note on the chair saying shed taken them. It left me with no choice except to walk to my car in these huge, high boots.
The scenes (or intersecting fragments of scenes) in Mistress Lorraines dungeon are comedic and degrading all rolled into one, for Mistress Loraine, like Leslie Ayvazians Internet find, is, no matter how domineering, a teacher, a painstaking and pain-giving--instructor at heart.
There is even a whiff of Jean Genet here.
MISTRESS: Foot fetish, pony play, leatherfetish, role play
CONNIE: Pony play?
MISTRESS: Pick up a crop. Flick it like this on the back of the head. Remember pony play, Phil?
What did you do?
PHIL: I galloped, Mistress.
MISTRESS: What did I do?
PHIL: Sat on my shoulders and gripped my head between your legs, Mistress.
Suddenly I see, as if it were yesterday, tall, gorgeous Salome Jens galloping around gloriously naked, tossing her long hair, whip in hand, as the Pony Girl in José Quinteros 1960 production of Genets The Balcony at Circle-on-the-Square on Bleecker Street.
All of which brings us to a topic of some current national interest: Torture. Does Make Me not have some relevance here?
To tell you the truth, not really, says the woman who wrote it. Not like Christopher Durangs play, Why Torture Is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them. You know, the dominatrix and her client have to have a very pure relationship. Its like she says in the play (when instructing Connie on ways and means):
Before you and your client
embark on a scene, you decide what he can handle and what the limits are. Youre not here just to torture. Youre here to protect!
Leslie Ayvazian, born-in-Boston Armenian, turns 60 this summer. (Her play High Dive celebrated turning 50.) Ivans father is her husband, prestigious architect Sam Anderson. Hes very cool, she says. Ive had a crush on him for 33 years.
The director of Make Me is Christian Parker. The actors are Jessica Hecht as Connie, Anthony Arkin as Eddie, Ellen Parker as Sissy, J.R. Horne as Hank, Richard Masur as Phil, and Candy Buckley as Mistress Lorraine.
Yes, playwright Ayvazian still has those oversized boots. No, she says, she doesnt wear them. Cool.