Dallas — Who trained women to perform self-loathing and retrospection when we reach a year in age that ends with a zero? Is it so hard to count milestones that we must do so by tens: the big 30, 40, 50? Leslie Ayvazian made an autobiographical play out of this overplayed tradition: the one-woman play High Dive, tribute to managing expectations at the juncture of middle-age while everyone watches.
The protagonist is still three weeks away from turning 50. Leslie, played by an earnest Kristin McCollum in Echo Theatre’s production, compares this state of anticipation to stalling on the plank of a pirate ship. The playwright takes her own cliché and stages it at a swimming pool in Greece. Echo’s staging, directed by Echo co-founder Pam Myers-Morgan, features floating Doric columns and mood lighting against a dreamy painted screen that fades from blue to purple. Ticketholders at the Bath House Cultural Center wind down a curtained-off path into a suggestion of water (scenic design by Terri Ferguson), while cruise ship dancefloor fare like Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” plays alongside tracks that could be from NPR’s Love Songs from the Mediterranean special.
Leslie is there to tread waters of her own personal history—not to consider the ancient ruins, and definitely not to leave the diving board. McCollum paces back and forth on the platform dressed more for a Zumba class than she is for a dip with her family. The audience glimpses her from the very beginning as the poolside mom we couldn’t convince to get in the water. It is her one mystery, this resistance. It’s not that she never plays with us, or never sings in the car, or comes home from the gym with melted makeup. While everyone else is swimming, she simply will not join, especially not to put her head under the water. For generations this has been a source of frustration. High Dive is at its best when pleas from Leslie’s 11-year-old son (Lily McCollum, Kristin’s daughter) are so deeply insistent and pained that they resurrect a memory of begging one’s mom to jump in.
Kristin McCollum does a spirited job of making sure the audience never once believes Leslie is going to do it. On tangents Leslie wildly pantomimes air conditioner repair, cable installation, and sometimes pretends to stretch in preparation for a dive. For an hour Leslie embodies the resistance of happiness, flinching even at its approach. We hear about past doomed vacations, a dangerous motorcycle boyfriend, a play that took a year to produce that she performed for only two nights.
Audience members who volunteered before curtain read lines from the seats as pool-goers and family members. This interaction serves the performance-of-performance in High Dive and keeps everyone engaged; even McCollum draws energy from the interjections, surely an important element of the playwright’s psychodrama.
The reminiscing gets tiresome not because the audience is not curious about Leslie. It’s because Leslie herself is so incurious and hesitant. She knows this and seems ashamed of it. But her son’s voice pierces the staleness of these wonderings—a credit to Lily McCollum, whose delivery is strikingly resonant even as her few lines are shouted from the seats.
Really, the power of this, “MOM!” carries the production. If the pool is peace—something so outwardly elusive and yet so internally possible as women age—then the plea to jump in is worth all the weight it carries.