Lauren Weedman has just sent an intern out for a Subway sandwich. “I know. I’ve never had an intern in my life,” she says in a phone interview from Los Angeles, sounding slightly awed by her own power. “This girl is sitting in our rehearsals — I’m rehearsing in someone’s garage — and she had written me an E-mail, and now she’s sitting in the garage with us, taking notes and such. I’ve never sent someone for a sandwich before; it’s like, ‘Oh, God, now I’m really pushing it.’”
Anyone who has ever seen one of Weedman’s one-woman shows understands that there is little chance of her going on a mega-power trip. Her multi-character shows are drawn from her own experience, and she is always as hard, if not harder, on the versions of herself as she is on the other characters who wander into Lauren-land.
Weedman, who L.A. Weekly calls “a female Robin Williams,” returns for the second year to Trenton for Passage Theater’s Eighth Annual SoloFlights Festival. She will reprise her show from last year, “Bust,” Friday through Sunday, March 5 through 7, and will premiere a new show, “No…You Shut Up!” from Friday through Sunday, March 12 through 14.
“The Passage Theater is giving us the opportunity to do the first full performance (of the new show). Well, that’s a lie. I got commissioned to write ‘No…You Shut Up!’ for a theater in Boise. I did the show, and I love that theater, but I wasn’t completely happy with (the show). So I decided that I wanted to do a major re-write, and I spent the last year trying to expand it and deepen it and make it better. And so I guess I’m getting it ready for its second premiere. But it’s such a different show now.”
That’s a conscientious approach, considering how well the show was received when it premiered at the Boise Contemporary Theater in late 2008. Writing in Boise Weekly, Tara Morgan called it “gut-clutchingly frank,” and opined that it “provides the perfect showcase for the talents of this sometimes neurotic, sometimes vulnerable, always charming, one-woman phenom.”
“No…You Shut Up!,” as seen in Boise, was a trip through the social maze of the adoption trail, as Weeden ponders onstage taking out those baby ownership papers. “I’ve never done a show that got so many laughs,” she says. “It’s almost like I was doing stand-up. I do want comedy to be a major factor, but every time someone said, ‘I think this is maybe your funniest show,’ that made me feel that every time I couldn’t figure out what to do, I had just gone for a laugh. There were tons of laughs in it; in the first 15 minutes, it was joke after joke after joke. Which was great to start the show off, because then the energy was wonderful. But then at the end of the show, I was feeling that I had missed something here; I don’t know what, but I had missed something.”
Not that Weedman isn’t used to getting laughs, because she is a very funny person. The Indiana native honed her skills with the improv troupe Upright Citizens Brigade and on the Seattle-based “Almost Live” TV show, before moving on to Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” and “Reno 911.” She has been in films with Eddie Murphy, Tina Fey, and Steve Carell, and most recently appeared on the HBO series “Hung.”
“Bust” is based on Weedman’s experiences while doing community service at a woman’s prison. She plays a dizzying variety of characters during the show, including a less-than-flattering version of herself, who may have volunteered just to be somewhere where she is the prettiest girl. It’s typical Weedman in that even when working with inmates she takes no prisoners. She is not always complimentary to those she has worked with — from nameless prison employees to Jon Stewart; none comes off well in the Weedman canon. She’s like a nicer, smarter, less snarky version of Sarah Silverman, mixed with a little Kathy Griffin, but with a lot more depth.
Weedman grew up in Indianapolis. Her father, Sidney Weedman, was the manager of Clowes Memorial Hall, a theatrical venue; managed the Indianapolis Symphony; and worked in city development for Indianapolis. All of Weedman’s shows tend to be autobiographical, but in “No…You Shut Up!” she strives to stir more emotions than just laughter, and maybe exorcize some demons along the way.
“What I always like about solo theater is that the shows can evolve with me,” she says. “With ‘Bust’ the story lines were not fleshed out in the very beginning. But as I continued to do the show, I kept finding new answers. I was hoping to take even more time with ‘No…You Shut Up!,’ and I have, almost a year, to find out if there is something deeper here. It started off a little surface-y, and I hope I get to something more. When I was younger, I would get it up and going in about five weeks, writing on my feet, improve it, memorize it…the whole show would be done. And afterwards I would write the script out. I wasn’t nearly as into the story. Now, I want to see how the play reads. I want it to be a better play, not just my solo show, not just my trick, seeing how many characters I can do.”
The play brings Weedman’s private life right onto the stage, even more than usual. Her boyfriend is a character, as is his son, and in a way, his first wife. “Because (this show) is so personal, I want to get it right. I want it to have a bigger theme than just me. I’m still in the middle of it, but I’ll tell what I think I’m trying to say. It is so personal, and I always want to go back to what’s really true, and then I want to make the theme universal. In ‘Bust’ I am me, Lauren, but I’m definitely much dumber. I’m living with this widower and his son, and it’s about family. It’s coming down to be about this incident that happened when I was a kid.”
She goes on to describe the situation, but that’s best left to be experienced as part of the show. Suffice to say that, combined with the fact that she was an adopted child, it profoundly affected her life. “The show is about that incident as a motivational thing, and how I’m not very good at fitting, relaxing in a group setting — families or whatever. I tend to not stay in a family very long, because I don’t get the whole thing of what you do. I’ve always felt that they only like me when I’m hilariously on, like I feel like I have to put on a big old show. It’s always been that way, my whole life. That’s a lot of tap-dancing.”
The impression that Weedman gives is that of a person who made a lot of bad choices young, but one whose choices keep getting better and better. With a three-month-old baby, in a committed relationship, in the midst of a creatively charged career, the odds are in her favor. If she’ll just allow herself to think that way.
“But this play is about losing my edge, too,” she says. “Now the show is not about trying to decide if I was going to have a baby — that was a major issue. So that’s out of the way, and now I can think clearly. Are my choices getting better? I hope so. If it was the other way, I’d probably be mired in addiction. That’s what great about the solo shows. I hope that with each one I evolve a little.”
So this is a show that is cathartic for Weedman, and hilarious and touching for us. Not a bad way to spend a night in the theater.
“Bust,” Friday and Saturday, March 5 and 6, 8 p.m.; and Sunday, March 7, 3 p.m., Passage Theater, Mill Hill Playhouse, 205 East Front Street, Trenton. Lauren Weedman’s surprise hit about her experience volunteering in the L.A. County women’s prison. 609-392-0766 or www.passagetheatre.org.
“No…You Shut Up!,” Friday, March 12, 8 p.m., and Saturday, March 13, 3 and 8 p.m. Lauren Weedman’s new work about a 40-something actress being pulled kicking and screaming toward motherhood.
Also in the SoloFlights Festival:
“You a Man Now?,” Friday, March 19, 8 p.m. A spoken word theater experience written and performed by Mo Beasley that puts a new spin on the urban male coming-of-age story in Mew Millennium America.
“This Is Ragtime,” Saturday, March 20, 8 p.m.; and Sunday, March 21, 3 p.m. Ragtime, stride, and blues pianist Terry Waldo brings the story of ragtime to the stage.
Hurricane Season: The Hidden Message in Water,” Thursday and Friday, March 25 and 26, 8 p.m. This tapestry of poetry, theater, dance, and multimedia with live instrumentation, written and performed by Climbing PoeTree, addresses a great shift in universal consciousness through unnatural disasters such as Katrina and its aftermath.
“MotherSON,” Saturday, March 27, 8 p.m.; and Sunday, March 28, 3 p.m. Emmy-nominated writer-performer Jeffrey Solomon plays both a son and the mother who struggles to accept his sexual orientation, tracingher transformation from shell-shoocked parent to the mom at the front of the Pride Parade.
“The Reluctant Optimist,” Friday and Saturday, April 2 and 3, 8 p.m. Princeton resident Mary Martello explores the elation and disappointment that come with being a cockeyed optimist in the modern world.