A Messy Jaunt Through One Woman's Psyche

Kirsten Vangsness in Mess
Kirsten Vangsness in Mess
Wendi West

It would be an overstatement if I said that Mess was a completely accurate title for Kirsten Vangsness' one-woman show at Theatre of Note. Yes, Mess is a bit untidy. And, frankly, it doesn't pack the punch of her earlier work, Potential Space, a hilariously bawdy venture into the ruminations of an earthy gal looking for love in mostly the wrong places. The current show is considerably more cerebral, though it does touch on the adolescent awakenings of the first-person narrator (how literally autobiographical this is, I couldn’t say).

In general, Mess is concerned with conveying the ambiguities within one person’s inner sense of self, as opposed to telling a story involving people and relationships in the shared reality most of us ascribe to. And central to the narrative is a non-linear concept of time, the idea (with a nod to quantum theory) that moments in your life — yourself at 4 and yourself at 44, for example — can be unfolding simultaneously rather than in sequence.

An hour-long journey into an individual’s psyche, the play, by design, at times unwinds as if beneath the threshold of consciousness, emerging in sentence fragments and with odd references to furry little creatures operating within the mind, although for what purpose is never clear (except to existence itself, perhaps). This sort of dialog can be difficult to follow, rather like the communications of a friend who’s smoked a lot of weed when you haven’t.

On the other hand, Vangsness seems perfectly aware of the fuzzy nature of the feelings and impressions she’s trying to relate; she sings a recurring song, and encourages the audience to join in the refrain, “For we all are a mess, I guess ... And we act like we’re totally cool.” One can easily get with that.

It bears mention that eventually the focus of the play grows sharper; Vangsness delivers first-person recollections of childhood and adolescence, the most developed one being her experience as a 14-year-old in Christian camp, with the stirrings of infatuation for a charismatic counselor. Although you wish there were more anecdotes like this to engage you, in the end it’s sufficient to watch this performer cavort about the stage with that tremendously buoyant energy and disingenuousness that is her gift.

GO! Theatre of Note, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood; through Feb. 26. theatreofnote.com.


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