What a rare experience it is, when a character that's as maniacal, sexually overheated and as transparently off the rails as a sketch comedy goofball from SNL or a Groundlings show can be the centerpiece of a such a deeply moving play. Lying beneath its clowning hijinx, Ann Randolph's solo performance concerns the fleeting essences of memory and home, of a character grappling with sanity, with mortality, and with the erosion of life leading to beauty. All you have to do is imagine the landscape below the aircraft on which the despondent Franny Potz (Randolph) is returning "home" to Ohio from California, and you can imagine the wrinkles in the desert, like those carved by the snaking Colorado River, like the wrinkles on the face of almost anybody who has endured a life worth living. Franny comes up with these images hard to imagine from somebody who can't look at you without her tongue involuntarily swirling around her lower lip and her eyes boggling out, and who prides herself on singing from Handel's "The Messiah" dead off-key. There's a "businessman" sitting next to her, he's a bit of an asshole but you can understand his skepticism with this loon by his side. The major accomplishment in Randolph's 90-minute show is to slowly transfer our empathy from him to her. And this is done through re-enactments of Franny's friendship with her crusty mother, perhaps the only friend she has, and of how with limited financial resources, Franny ushered the older woman into a care facility on the heels of a stroke. The piece careens from the ribald humor of Franny's sexual fantasy with the aircraft's pilot to the heartbreak of Franny seeing her mother in the "home," and the older woman failing to recognize her own daughter until memory snaps back with the re-functioning of some decayed synapse. The piece combines child-like, even infantile, humor with profundities about time's inexorable march over all of us. This unorthodox blend results in a performance that's silly and tender in the same breath. Its wisdom and beauty are almost indescribable. Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 13, brownpapertickets.com. (800) 838-3006.
Thursdays, 8 p.m. Starts: Oct. 7. Continues through Nov. 13, 2010