Arena Stage LovelandBy David Siegel • Mar 24th, 2014 • Category: Reviews
Arena Stage: (Info) (Web)
Kogod Cradle, Washington DC
Through April 13th
75 minutes, without intermission
$25-$40 (Plus Fees)
Reviewed March 20th, 2014
As you seek out your next theater evening, here’s a question for you: what could be comic about grief over the death of a loved one? Can there be smiles rather than just tears? Well, in a rapid reply, Ann Randolph’s sanguine Loveland currently at Arena Stage, has an abundance of remarkable, sometimes absurdist, comic flair. Audiences can thank the loopy, ultimately charming character Frannie Potts, created by Randolph, who is dealing with the death of her mother.
“Death, dying and loss are such taboos in our society,” noted Randolph in the Arena Stage media release. “Yet, as painful as they are, these experiences often have a ridiculous and deeply funny side.”
To observe Randolph’s solo, ultimately uplifting performance as Potts, a young woman on a mission to make sure all is right at her mother’s funeral, is to witness a personal essay by a compelling story-teller. We are witnesses at a special kind of upbeat wake; the mourners remembering with great cheer the joyful life of the deceased.
Randolph is an award-winning playwright and performer. Her previous off-Broadway solo show, Squeeze Box was produced by Mel Brooks and the late Anne Bancroft. Loveland played for two years in San Francisco where it won numerous awards and also played to sold-out houses in Los Angeles. This is the show’s East Coast premiere.
Directed by Joshua Townshend-Zellner, Loveland takes place in an unlikely setting; the closed-off, tight-fitting world of an economy class cabin on a cross-continent plane trip from Southern California to Ohio. On the plane Frannie interacts with her plane mates, all deftly played by Randolph, channeling memories of her beloved, chain-smoking, hard-drinking, wheelchair bound mother. She also fantasizes about having an encounter with the plane’s Captain (voiced with feeling by the unseen Wayne Wilderson).
Randolph plays Frannie as honest and emotionally open, to a fault. She talks without a pause button. Socially awkward, she doesn’t want to live a “yes, but” stilted life. She speaks with a loud, nervous laughter. At first we think her not just inappropriate, but obnoxious as she dances suggestively down the main aisle of an airplane or provides that once she was summarily escorted out of a Whole Foods for moaning too loudly while getting a massage.
We also witness off-the-wall devilish moments as Frannie remembers and then sings scatological lyrics directly to folk stuck in an assisted living facility while accompanying herself on a portable harmonium. Her facial gestures to accompany songs about a car alarm and a airplane’s flushing toilet are priceless.
Frannie also talks more seriously; of wanting to learn that there is “beauty to be found in loss.” She gives us heart-felt life lessons in the power of music to bring emotion as she responds to Mozart’s Requiem or sings her mother’s favorite church hymn, “Softly and Tenderly” with its refrain, “Come home, come home, You who are weary, come home.”
On the plane trip, Frannie pays very close attention to her carry-on baggage stowed in an overhead bin. Its contents contain a very precious cargo. Unfortunately, flying over Loveland Pass in Colorado, there is turbulence. The worst that could happen does. The overhead bin opens. Her small suitcase opens up, the contents flying about the plane’s cabin. It is at this moment that the Loveland takes a tender turn with the unexpected kindness of strangers who just a breath before were painted in the most unpleasant ways. It is a palpable group hug of humanity for Frannie that we feel and take part in.
The Loveland set consists of little more that our imagination to go with a wooden chair at the center of the Kogod Cradle with a light turquoise colored bag from which she pulls out various props and the portable hormonium at audience left on a stand. That is more than enough for the imagination to take hold.
Loveland is one of six projects selected for the 2013-14 Kogod Cradle Series, designed to support the development of new and emerging American theater. Loveland is part of Arena Stage’s American Voices New Play Institute.
Reacting to loss is such a very personal thing. Loveland is the way that playwright and performer Ann Randolph has reacted. Loveland may not be for everyone. On the night your reviewer attended laughter came in waves came from different sections of the audience as different scenes played out. Some audience members responded with strong bright laughter at the over-the-top memories related to sexual innuendo. Others sucked in their breath at moments when dealing with death and dying were at the forefront.
At the final curtain of the 75 minute, intermission-free Loveland, there were church bells chiming and “Softly and Tenderly” being sung as Frannie ended her memory play for her beloved mother. The audience was clearly touched. They stood and applauded with a soft vigor.
Note: Following each Loveland performance, Ann Randolph leads a mini writing workshop to explore the power of expressed personal grief.
Photos by Teresa Wood
- Frannie Potts and Others: Ann Randolph
- Voice of Captain Wheeler: Wayne Wilderson
Design and Production Team
- Written by Ann Randolph
- Directed by Joshua Townshend-Zeliner
- Lighting Designer: Andres Holder
- Dramaturg: Jocelyn Clarke
- Light Board Operator: Scott Folsom
- Sound Engineer: Adam Johnson
Disclaimer: Arena Stage provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/10287.
David Siegel is a freelance theater reviewer and features writer whose work appears on ShowBizRadio, in the Connection Newspapers and the Fairfax Times. He is a judge in the Helen Hayes Awards program. He is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and volunteers with the Arts Council of Fairfax County. David has been associated with theater in the Washington, DC area for nearly 30 years. He served as Board President, Alexandria's American Showcase Theater Company (now Metro Stage) and later with Arlington's American Century Theater as both a member of the Executive Board and as Marketing Director. You can follow David's musings on Twitter @pettynibbler.