By A.L. Adams
ARMED WITH A NEW FAVORITE BOOK AND A COUNTRY CHANTEUSE CHARACTER, THE VETERAN SOLO PERFORMER CONFRONTS HER DIVORCE.
There’s nothing more boring than people talking about how busy they are,” says Lauren Weedman by way of apology. Finally ensnared in conversation after a spirited round of phone tag, she’s put me on speaker as she drives from Santa Monica to Silver Lake for a writers’ meeting. She’s consulting on a sitcom that stars, of all people, Andrew Dice Clay.
Last night, she went to her second Lucinda Williams concert of the week (she’s a huge fan and is semi-studying the singer), where she drank some whiskey and stayed out until midnight. Once she parks, she’ll put on some makeup to “look less 47 and hungover” for a roomful of dudes who frame each of their story ideas as “pitches.”
In person or onstage, Weedman is used to divulging details from her personal life—used to it, but not comfortable. In fact, when she heard Lucinda Williams reveal in a recent NPR interview that she’s “never been comfortable a day in her life,” Weedman deeply identified.
Flash back to a particularly uncomfortable moment for Weedman last summer: At Portland Center Stage at the Armory’s JAW Festival, she performed an early workshop version of a show the company had commissioned for this spring, Lauren Weedman Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.
Weedman (as is her custom) played herself, a woman processing a recent, painful divorce from a husband who left her for their baby sitter. The show, which consisted mostly of monologues and a slew of cover tunes, also cameoed Weedman’s country singer alter ego, “Tammy Lisa.” Weedman put it all out there, donning and discarding sparkly costume pieces, doing awkward dance moves and pushups, and soliloquizing wildly about her insecurities. She kept glancing back at the guitarist accompanying her, scrutinizing his blank face for hints of approval.
When I tell her I caught this show, she laughs wryly, remarking that I might as well have walked in on her in her bedroom—in fact, she hopes that performance didn’t scare The Armory to death. “I actually overheard someone from their board talking about me,” she confesses. “They were like, ‘It was a complete mess, but I’m sure she’ll pull it together.’”
That’s a safe bet for the playwright and performer of nine critically acclaimed solo shows over the past 16 years who’s appeared on The Daily Show, True Blood, Arrested Development, and more. No stranger to The Armory and skilled in translating her own experiences into theatrical narrative in such works as Bust and The People’s Republic of Portland, Weedman left this particular dry run determined to retool her newest material until it felt right.
“Am I just going to sing songs about breaking up and my sad divorced life?” she pondered. “What does it need?” First off, she decided to be alone up there. Musicians will be behind a scrim. Next, she gave the script some distance. “For the first time ever, putting my life onstage felt too personal,” she says. “I needed to script it like it wasn’t actually me—to be a character.”
Like Jerry in Seinfeld, Louie in Louie, or indeed Andrew Dice Clay in Dice, Weedman decided to fictionalize some elements of her life to heighten and tighten her storyline, as well as to muster some privacy for her kid. Now, rather than Weedman herself, Tammy Lisa will be the star of Lauren Weedman Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.
Here’s the pitch: Tammy Lisa is the host of an old-fashioned TV variety show, a lá Barbara Mandrell or Sonny and Cher. In a special episode, Tammy’s househusband is set to make a guest appearance, slinking out of his famous wife’s shadow after a long hiatus at home to perform a triumphal duet where the pair will share the spotlight. Amid a parade of guests (each impersonated by Weedman), drama ensues when Tammy and hubby stop getting along.
Weedman had already begun researching this format, binging on episodes of Dean Martin shows and mimicking his dancers, when an unexpected new influence emerged: the philosophies of psychiatrist Carl Jung.
“I went to Powell’s [Books] to pick up some corny joke book,” she says. “I figured I’d do a Vegas-style act with jokes about, ‘I hate my neck, middle age, blah-dee-blah-blah…’ Then I ran into a whole section on Jung, and a book just called to me: The Middle Passage: From Misery to Meaning in Midlife by James Hollis. Oh my god. You know when a book changes your insides, or it is your insides? I had my Catcher in the Rye moment with this book.”
Jung’s ideas didn’t exactly alter Weedman’s vision, but they certainly deepened it, leading her to workshop more experimental versions of her show at CalArts’ REDCAT Theater and helping her feel more secure in her shaken emotional state. She’d begun to worry that she was depressed, but Jung’s theories mercifully re-situated those feelings into the context of her phase of life. She wasn’t alone, and it was going to be OK. “It may be cheesy, but I felt free.”
So what will she present onstage at The Armory this spring? A Jungian psychodrama? A winking, slinky lounge routine? Solo slapstick? Intensive rehearsal with director Rose Riordan will shuffle the pieces together into their final form, and she has “some more digging to do,” Weedman says. “But now I know the conversation I want to have.”
That conversation may not be comfortable… but it should be fun, and it’s going to be real.
Portland Center Stage premiere’s Lauren Weedman Doesn’t Live Here Anymore March 17 through April 30 at The Armory, 128 NW 11th Avenue, Portland. Tickets are available online at pcs.org/laurenweedman.