Through Dec 18
The Studio Theatre
1501 14th Street, NW
If you’re not yet familiar with comedic actress/writer/playwright Lauren Weedman, you need to be. Best known for her stint as a correspondent on “The Daily Show” and playing Horny Patty on HBO’s “Hung,” Weedman is hilarious.
In her mostly autobiographical, one-woman show “Bust” — now at the Studio Theatre — Weedman revisits her real-life experience as a volunteer in a Los Angeles women’s jail. Playing all the parts (inmates, guards, friends, other volunteers, a Manhattan magazine editor and herself), Weedman wittily juxtaposes her time navigating the labyrinth-like, ridiculously bureaucratic correctional system with her equally surreal life as a working actress in L.A.
The way Weedman portrays herself (manic, insecure, largely self-absorbed but coming from a good place), she couldn’t be less suited to volunteer for an inmate buddy program called Beyond Bars. After arriving late and disrupting orientation, she goes on to break every one of the group’s rules. In her first meeting with the prisoners she’s come to help, she reveals her home address, details of her sex life and makes promises she can’t possibly keep (all big no-nos). She’s fairly neurotic, entirely without filter and boy oh boy, is it funny.
Not surprisingly, “Bust’s” authority figures particularly dislike her. The earnest orientation leader assumes (not wholly unwarrantedly) that Weedman is high on cocaine and during the initial jailhouse tour, a seasoned Chicano guard informs her that all those incessant wisecracks will get her killed. She spends a lot of time apologizing all over the place for what’s just popped out of her mouth.
Ably directed by Allison Narver, it’s a fast-paced 90 minutes. There is no set. Other than a rolling ladder and a rolling stool, the stage is empty. Dressed in a white wife beater and black pants, the 40-ish blond actress seamlessly changes from person to person. Not a lot of actors can inhabit more than a dozen characters of varied gender, ethnic background and class with Weedman’s same dazzling incisiveness. Whether it’s a tweaked-out inmate, abusive TV commercial director or the wise senior volunteer named Irene, she’s dead-on.
Toward the beginning of the play when the volunteers share their reason for being there, the Weedman character says she wants to get outside of herself, to think of something other than her weight. Then she lets slip out that she also thought, perhaps, inside jail she might stand a chance at being the prettiest girl in the room. She’s then quick to add that she’s straight — almost entirely so.
Though she does TV and increasingly more feature films, Weedman continues to make time for solo performances. Mined from her life, the plays sometimes contain gay and lesbian characters. In interviews Weedman references gay friends and jokes about how casting agents typically see her as the lesbian sidekick. She has an LGBT following.
Hers is a self-deprecating, smart, outrageous and occasionally silly humor. She simultaneously finds a lot of madness and some meaning in her life. Just when her onstage self becomes discouraged by the prisoners’ self-defeating behavior and afraid that she’s been a totally ineffective volunteer, a prisoner sincerely thanks Weedman for making all those weekly visits. It’s an extremely poignant moment. And then it’s back to more laughs.