“Did you eat my napkin?” asks Lauren Weedman when I return from dousing myself with cold water in the bathroom.
No, but it’s a fair question seeing as how I have eaten all of our bread, plus the calamari-in-marinara-sauce appetizer, my chicken ravioli, some of the better bits of her scraggly chicken marsala, coughed up two gumball-size pieces of garlic, and nearly passed out.
We find the napkin on the floor.
“How come you don’t eat those?” I ask, pointing at her plate.
“What do you mean?”
“Because I secretly know you want them. I think I may have a piece of chicken in my teeth you can have.”
Damn. Who is this girl? I haven’t felt this awkward since I took Sue Cistello to the Steak and Ale when I got my driver’s license.
You may not know about Lauren Weedman. She’s not a big star. She may be someday, or she may not, but when she’s onstage I’d advise that you duck — painful truths go whizzing by like bullets, send-ups rain down like bombs, an uncensored id explodes like shrapnel out of some internal minefield. It kills me like art. Killer art. I’m not sure we’ve seen anyone like Lauren Weedman before.
In her latest one-woman journey to the center of her psyche, Bust, which ran for three mostly sold-out dates in March at REDCAT, Weedman details the descent of a naive, self-absorbed creature/victim of Hollywood into the bowels of the prison system, where she has volunteered as a kind of inmate pal in a program called Behind Bars. Along the way, Weedman, acting about 15 different roles, mercilessly, lovingly and hilariously skewers her vapid network of friends and colleagues (unforgettable is her pillorying of a women’s mag editor and a dog-rescuing friend), the inane prison bureaucracy, the self-defeating prisoners, the earnest volunteers and mostly herself. And while I’m watching it, I’m shitting my pants at how funny and poignant, ferocious and precise the whole thing is, and all I can think is: Who is she? Why isn’t she a huge star? And I’ve got to meet this woman.
Seriously, you want to meet her. You want to know her. You want to be friends with her in that way you always dreamed of being friends with, well, Lou Reed is the other one. I know being starstruck isn’t very professional, but there it is. And on the way out of the show, I realize I’ve had this feeling before, of wanting to meet her. It was the time years ago when my wife dragged me to some fringe theater festival in which Weedman had a cameo monologue in one of choreographer Hassan Christopher’s dance and performance-art pieces. Time stopped then just as it did during Bust. You got the sense you were seeing something rare and great and that surely she’d be everywhere soon. And she may be.
Or she may not. Who knows? I’m not sure we know what to do with her, or that she knows what to do with us. But she’s here now. And the fact that I’m getting my chance to meet her just a few days after her Bust run must be making me nervous. I’m fidgety, distracted and can’t think straight. Weedman, on the other hand, despite coming straight from volunteering at a women’s prison in Torrance is, rather incongruous to her stage persona, completely together. She’s dressed casually cool, with slightly curly blond locks doing a nice cascade around her pretty face. She’s friendly and gracious and funny without even saying anything as she sits across from me at a small table in what’s described online as a local’s-favorite Italian joint in a nondescript (what else?) strip mall on Venice Boulevard. The only thing missing is the locals. We’re practically alone, which might have something to do with why I’m sweating profusely, though I blame it on the nuclear-powered candle on our table. Weedman moves the candle over to her side and says, “If one more weird thing happens in here, I’m fucking leaving. There’s a lot going on.”
Lauren Weedman grew up in a loving, buttoned-down Midwestern family from Indianapolis. Her dad was a businessman and her mom was kind of a socialite. She was adopted. She didn’t escape the attendant issues. Like when she was 9 and her friend, who was a foster child, was returned to sender. “I thought we were the same thing,” she says.
Being funny started early. “It’s the adopted thing — you don’t want to be sent back.”
I ask her how her mom came to adopt her. “She did a lot of volunteering and I’m sure she was like [in a stuffy English accent], I’ll take one. She had an English accent . . . No, she didn’t.”