Comedy is clearly one of Lauren Weedman's gifts—the other is specificity. For an autobiographical solo performer who portrays herself as a self-involved goofball who's constantly putting her foot in her mouth, she has a remarkable ability to empathize with a galaxy of characters, from twitchy meth addicts to piggish Hollywood directors.
Bust, directed by Allison Narver, is a study in such empathy. Weedman—an actor and former Daily Show with Jon Stewart correspondent who lives in Los Angeles—volunteers to be an inmates' advocate in a women's jail. She wants to help people, right some wrongs, and "do something that isn't about me." Her primary task is to listen, but talking is what she does best, sometimes with (brilliantly) disastrous results. While searching through the byzantine hallways of a social services building, looking for her prison orientation, she talks loudly on her cell phone about a recent incident involving "really, just the tiniest amount of cocaine" and making out with a stranger in a bathroom. Turns out she's blaring her sordid story into the open doorway of the orientation. "Um, you're talking to your sponsor?" the volunteer coordinator asks hopefully. Minutes later, Weedman jokes that she signed up "because a women's jail is the only place where I have a shot at being the prettiest girl in the room."
It's easy to forget that Weedman is a solo performer, evoking the conflicting moods of a roomful of people all by her lonesome. In two scenes, she enacts a string of inmates' friends and relatives, sitting along the bulletproof visitation wall, talking on the telephone receivers to the prisoners. She wheels herself from station to station in a rolling chair becoming, in seconds, an old woman praying, wanting to press her hands on the Plexiglas but disgusted with its grime, then a screaming woman with a screaming child, then a randy man insisting "lemme see that ass," then her slouching self. She leaps from one persona to the next, bounding across gaps of race, class, and gender like an acrobat. Bust could use a few tweaks—there are a few muddy bits about her last show and an unfortunate Glamour article—but she remains one of the most entertaining and transfixing artists around.
While Weedman relies on herself to create the—please excuse the term—theater magic, dancer Alex Martin has spent a year trying to eviscerate it. A member of BetterBiscuitDance Company, Martin is wrapping up a yearlong project—wearing the same brown dress from July 7, 2005, to July 7, 2006, shedding it this weekend in a dance piece at her Un-dressing Party. Long-term dress wearing isn't a new idea (artist Andrea Zittel started making and wearing single dresses for six-month stretches in 1991) and risks dismissal as a gimmick—but Martin's project is not an end in itself, but a means to a greater idea: paring down stage trickery and performing as plainly as she can. Martin says she "wanted to erase the fiction of clothing and costumes." That sounds vague and highfalutin until you consider her dance piece at On the Boards' Northwest New Works—which she will repeat at the Un-dressing Party. Martin talked informally with the audience, cued her music by calling out to the composer, "hey, let's do that fast one," and either performed with the house lights up or asked the crowd to light her with huge flashlights. Martin says she "wanted to erase all the magic of the show, to stop pretending the lights and music come up and down by themselves or that the audience isn't there." Neither marathon clothes wearing nor rough theater—breaking the fourth wall, dispensing with theater magic (ugh)—is particularly radical or new. But, in Martin's hands, they result in charming, attractive dance. And that's an unqualified good.
Some frequently asked questions: Do you wash the dress? "Yes!" Did you get cold? "Yes—deeply, frighteningly cold. Eventually, I wore leg warmers and pants under the dress." What about your day job? "I plan events and was anxious about telling clients 'I'm going to plan your wedding, but me? I only wear this one brown dress.' But lots of people didn't notice until I told them—you move through the world, wearing what you wear, and it affects nothing. Nobody keeps a mental catalog of your wardrobe. Everyone's too busy worrying about their own clothes to notice yours."
As a credit to Martin's seamstress skills, the dress held up. "I have strong opinions about reinforced seams and cuts that are movement appropriate," she said. "I had a pants seam split onstage when I was in college—I resolved then to spare people from that embarrassment if I could." Her original Un-Dressing venue, Gallery 108, closed and, as of this writing, Consolidated Works has tentatively agreed to host the performance—they have plenty of space and not much use for it.