Union Garage; ends Sat., July 3
Late in Lauren Weedman's newest solo show, she nonchalantly hauls out the pangs of her recent divorce to court some potential producers. An honest emotional revelation about the split, however, hits her during a break in the audition. Noticing that the epiphany might throw her off, a friend suggests she remember how much money she can make by mocking her pain, adding, "I wouldn't get caught up in all the details." Anyone who has ever seen Weedman onstage knows that this is impossible advice, of course, because her greatest gift is the ability to deliver big rewards from the woeful minutiae of her daily existence. Trouble is—at this workshop stage of the game, anyway—the friend was right: Wreckage is bitterly, often hugely hysterical, and sometimes woundedly observant, yet it's all details, and not enough of anything else it wants to be.
You really can't blame Weedman for getting lost in her own detritus—she has a lot to think about. Wreckage essentially wants to link a horrible lie she told when she was a needy 18-year-old with the false realities she constructed for herself during her marriage and a career that included a brush with fame in New York thanks to The Daily Show With Jon Stewart. That's a brave, ambitious start, but Weedman is obviously still searching for the best way to get to the finish line with it. The piece is literally all over the map, even dipping back into the European adventures that inspired her Amsterdam several seasons ago; director Jeff Weatherford hasn't found a way to rein in all the wild notions that keep his performer from sticking to the matter at hand. And that college lie is a whopper—it's work to get past it, despite the fact that Weedman manages to make its utter awfulness awfully funny.
To miss the show, though, would be to miss Weedman unbound: She's nervous and very raw here, and while it keeps the evening from being a polished success, it also means she's taking no prisoners; there isn't a soul who escapes her arched brow. Her comic recollections have an acidic resonance—days later you'll still be cringing from her post-separation Thanksgiving full of overweening married people, their wedding videos, and their precocious children (including an insistent tot who refers to her as "Puff Puff" after catching her smoking).
More than ever, Weedman seems like a gifted artist gamely trying to feel her way through a number of messy personal deceits in order to arrive at some larger and more difficult truth about herself. That she hasn't quite articulated it yet only means we have something even better to look forward to in the future. STEVE WIECKING
Are We Scared?
Open Circle Theater; ends Sat., June 26
This show is the result of a school-year-long collaboration between the talented troupe at Open Circle and a group of young (ages 2 to 5) students at Sweet Pea Preschool of the Performing Arts. The material, conceived and written entirely by the aspiring tykes, is geared toward adult audiences, with the actors playing a big role in adapting the work. The experiment could have gone all kinds of wrong—too goofy, too twee, too precious. Forget it: Are We Scared? is an unqualified delight. Like childhood itself, it abounds with mystery and sweet absurdity, a giddy inquisitiveness, hilarity, and wandering phantasmagoria. In a word, magic.
The stories reveal all the obsessions of childhood, with dinosaurs, dragons, superpowers, and chocolate providing a thematic pathway through the various episodes. The show begins with a very funny conversation between the sun and the moon, which amounts to a sort of alternative creation myth. From here, things unspool this way and that, and director Matt Fontaine does an excellent job of allowing the stories to exist on their own terms; the action is neither too constrained nor too chaotic. Rather, it blossoms according to its own interests and whims, yet always with a sense of and feeling for performance.
The performers themselves—Aaron Allshouse, Kirsten Helseth, John McKenna, Jen Renee Paulson, and S.S. Stansbury—display an uncommon sensitivity to what, in truth, proves to be difficult material; it can't be easy to convey children's tendency toward repetition and mimicry without resorting to arch patronizing or an unappealing foolishness. The trick, apparently, is to treat everything with the earnest awe it merits and with no prohibitions against oxymorons—one of the true joys of this production, in fact, is having one's eyes reopened to the sense of wonder and playfulness that suffuses everything in a child's life, creating a world full of serious laughter and visible invisibility. The cast members prove themselves entirely engaged with such inherent surrealism, and through their sheer exuberance and belief in their project, they create a narrative thread where—traditionally speaking, that is—none exists. RICHARD MORIN