Mad Women

Mad Women

Known for his mastery of the intimate, character-driven performance, John Fleck does not disappoint in this offbeat, yet strangely heartfelt solo show. It consists of dramatic portraits of two women, iconic diva Judy Garland and Fleck's own mother, who died from Alzheimer's-related issues some time ago. At the start of the show, Fleck bursts through a stage door and launches into a lip-synch of portions of one of Judy Garland's final performances — her famous turn at the Cocoanut Grove, where she interrupted her performance to bawl incoherent, self-hating, drug-laced insanity. From there, the story drifts into Fleck's memories of his own beloved mother, as she slowly lost her mind and entered a world of dreams. At first, it's unclear what the two stories can possibly have to do with each other, but as Fleck's haunting storytelling unfolds, the parallel themes coalesce into a simultaneously funny and melancholy meditation on the nature of insanity, dreams and, incidentally, the creative spirit. At one point, Garland's rambling actually subtly shifts into Fleck's mother's unearthly monologue, and we find ourselves unsure which woman we're actually listening to. In director Ric Montejano's breezy, seemingly simple staging, Fleck almost convinces us that's he's just hanging out with us and telling a story. However, the intimacy is deceptive and the adroit performance gracefully dances through powerful issues with emotional truthfulness. Many performers try to "do" Garland in their show, but Fleck is less interested in impersonating the singer (this isn't a drag show, except arguably for one short sequence toward the end) than he is in trying to touch on her deeper meaning. Eyes a-bugging and tongue a-waggling, Fleck himself mugs joyfully, peppering the show with ad libs and unexpected asides to particular members of the audience, but he's utterly on point when hitting precisely effective, emotionally charged notes. Skylight Theatre — Skylab, 1816 N. Vermont Ave., Los Feliz; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 7 p.m., thru May 29. katselastheatre.com.
Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Starts: May 6. Continues through May 29, 2011