There’s the self we present to the world, and then there are the selves we keep silent, for fear of what they might say if we let them speak up. The power of Ann Randolph’s riotous and moving solo show Loveland is that it gives voice to just such an inner self.
Randolph is an award-winning actress and writer — a contemporary of Will Ferrell whose last show was produced by Mel Brooks. She wrote Loveland as a way to come to terms with the fear of losing her parents. Frannie Potts is Randolph’s alter ego: puppy-like in her exuberance, a misfit who’s oblivious to subtle social cues; she prides herself on speaking her mind and following her impulses. We meet Frannie as she boards a flight from California to her native Ohio shortly after her mother’s death, when grief is making her even crazier than usual.
The airplane proves the perfect setting for Randolph to explore Frannie’s character: The close proximity with strangers, the physical confinement, and the aerial views of the American landscape all become starting points for hilarious and unsettling scenes and flashbacks. The captain invites passengers to “move about the cabin”; Frannie commences a sultry tango down the aisle. The stewardess ushers her back to her seat; Frannie lapses into a sexual fantasy and freaks out the businessman seated next to her.
Among Randolph’s most extraordinary talents is her ability to slip instantly from one character to the next. As Frannie, she’s gawky, brash, and slightly slack-jawed. Two fingers held aloft as if grasping a cigarette, a raspy voice, and a subtle sway transforms her into Frannie’s tipsy, wheelchair-bound mother. Lips pursed and palms pressed together, she’s the ingratiating social worker. Hands cinching her waist tight and eyes wide with false cheer: the stewardess.
Though her subject is grief, Randolph finds the humor in everything from a mortuary employee’s sales pitch to the indignity of choking to death on a mouthful of custard. Frannie’s penchant for “facial gesturing to sound” and the song she dedicates to the nursing-home residents (“What’re you hangin’ on for? Take your last breath now!”) are worth the ticket price alone. But it’s not just irreverent gags; Loveland builds to an emotional climax, and for all the guffaws, last week’s audience was sniffling by the night’s end.
There’s a good reason Loveland played for over a year in the Bay Area, where Randolph was named best solo performer of 2010. You’d have to be crazy to miss this one.