A good laugh can lift up the harshest material, and Ann Randolph’s Loveland keeps afloat with constant humor despite dealing intimately with death.
Ann Randolph, alone in Arena Stage’s Kogod Cradle with a few props, a harmonium, and several pre-recorded voice-overs, plays the semi-autobiographical Frannie Potts and the host of characters she interacts with. The story, simple on the surface, is a journey through grief, as Potts takes an airplane from California to Loveland, Ohio to distribute her mother’s cremated remains. As she crosses America, landmark by landmark, interwoven flashbacks take her also backward from the time of her mother’s good health, through her placement in a retirement home, her declining mental state, and, at last, to her death.
Randolph is a fleet and utterly fearless performer and writer; it would be a mistake to call her brave, because she’s so sure of the material that the bravery seems like a given, and instead she simply and joyously inhabits everything she does. Despite the props, sound, character switches and Andrés Holder’s lighting design, orchestrated to the split second, the feeling is something like being in a very large living room with an unnaturally prepared raconteur. Randolph even engaged the audience enough to draw them to sing along when prompted – a bit.
Her central character, the grieving Frannie, is a marvelous creation. She’s utterly weird, but somehow totally familiar – a soon-to-be-middle-aged single woman, utterly devoted to her earthy, cigarette-waving mother, tactless and straightforward to a fault. She loves Mother Nature and pisses on people who tart it up with gift shops or pseudo-spiritual meditation classes. She dances when she feels like it, has made up her own genre of performance art, and is unapologetically horny, even at a Whole Foods – or on an airplane.
Thanks to Randolph’s flexible face and voice, we get to see not just Frannie’s unrestrained reactions to the characters she meets in her travels, but also those characters themselves; with a flick of the wrist, a tightening of the jaw, or a little bit of an accent, Randolph launches into a spot-on portrait of a patronizing social worker or a chirpy flight attendant. She flips back and forth so quickly that you can practically see the dialogues between Frannie and her mother as if there were two people onstage.
Closes April 13, 2014
1101 Sixth Street, SW
Washington, DC 20024
1 hour 15 minutes with no intermission
Tickets: $25 – $40
Wednesdays through Sundays
And she goes to some pretty dark places along the way, in particular the sing-along portion of the evening, with lyrics such as “take your last breath now.” Naturally, moments like those are when most of the audience is left in stitches.
Despite the lofty themes of sex and death, the story turns out, in the end, to be about people – the people in Frannie’s life, the people on the plane, the people in the theater. Along those lines, Randolph comes out afterwards to present a short writing workshop as a gift to any audience member who wants to stay. She says, “we as a society tend to push grief away,” suggests writing as a way to deal with it, and offers to teach anyone who wants to learn her approach. It is this sense of generosity on her part that characterizes this brief but powerful evening of theatre.
Loveland . written and performed by Ann Randolph . Director: Joshua Townshend . Lighting Designer: Andrés Holder . Dramaturg: Jocelyn Clarke . Presented by Arena Stage . Reviewed by Brett Steven Abelman.
Trey Graham . City Paper
Jordan Wright . Alexandria Times
Celia Wren . Washington Post
David Siegel . ShowBizRadio
Elliot Lanes . MDTheatreGuide
Jennifer Perry . BroadwayWorld
Christina Marie Frank . DCMetroTheaterArts