In my time I've been known to joke about how self-involved theater people can be. But they barely register compared to Lauren Weedman, an L.A. actress/writer, in her solo piece Bust, now at City Theatre.
Basing her show on true events, Weedman introduces a Los Angeles writer/actress -- also named Lauren -- during her orientation with Beyond Bars, a volunteer group helping soon-to-be-released prisoners transition to life on the outside. As Weedman portrays her on-stage alter-ego, Lauren is well-meaning but so caught up in her own typical -- if not stereotypical -- self-obsession that it's difficult to think of someone less qualified for the task.
It's hardly a new idea (think Private Benjamin or Legally Blonde), but as a writer, Weedman certainly knows where the comedy is and the best way to extract the jokes -- the funniest, perhaps, being a violent inmate who pointedly requests that an emotionally overwrought Lauren not come back the following week.
As is customary with this type of story, Lauren finds her resolve, masters the gig's emotional and bureaucratic pitfalls, and strides confidently to the finish line. Side trips include Lauren's battle with a glossy woman's magazine over an explosive confessional essay she's written, as well as the ongoing feeding of her acting career. I was especially taken with a throwaway scene of Lauren auditioning for a TV commercial: With a few brief lines, Weedman expertly sums up not only the brutal way in which women are treated in the industry but how they can talk themselves into believing they deserve it.
Thanks to Weedman's own highly polished performance skills (she plays all the characters), Bust is a lively, funny evening of theater. She has a wonderful way of summing up people with tiny gestures and slight changes of voice and posture. Allison Narver's direction is all about emotional economy -- and a good thing, too, since this piece could have been beyond cheesy.
My sole complaint is Weedman's overstressing of the "ditzy-blonde/needy actress" shtick. It's hard to imagine that such an emotionally unstable character would ever have been allowed in such a combustible situation ... or, in fact, why she would even have wanted to be there. Weedman needs to sacrifice some of the laughs and show a bit more of the real "Lauren" ... and the real Weedman.
Bust continues through June 29. City Theatre, 1300 Bingham St., South Side. 412-431-2489 or www.citytheatrecompany.org