Westwood Playhouse is usually dark on Monday, the traditional theatrical off-night. But on recent Monday nights the place has been jumping with a different sort of production, and laughter, cheers and applause greet dialogue that no playwright ever scripted.
Monday nights at the Westwood belong to psychologist Pat Allen, therapist/comic/Mother Superior for the '90s. From this forum she dispenses wit, wisdom and one-liners about love, sex and relationships to crowds of single, well-dressed followers ranging in age from 20s to 50s.
Some are celebrities, such as Cyndy Garvey, Leeza Gibbons and Ted Shackleford. Many who attend this oh-so-Westside singles event are regulars who not only hang on her words, but anticipate them, and eagerly chant her pithy pledges.
"All you men," she instructs in a pre-Valentine's Day seminar, "let's do our 'Understand Women' pledge." The men repeat her words: "I promise on my honor to cherish the women in my life, even when they're illogical, irrational and often irritating, so help me God."
"Now, ladies," she continues, "let's do our 'How to Love Men' pledge," and the women intone: "I promise on my honor to respect my man's thoughts, wants and suggestions, even when I know I'm smarter and I could do it better, so help me God."
There is a format of sorts. Allen opens with a monologue, then moves to written and oral questions from the audience. As the evening progresses, people step up to the microphone and bare their private lives in intimate detail. And with a periodic reminder that "everything I say is also applicable to gay and lesbian relationships," Allen dispenses counsel and wisecracks.
Question: "I'm going through a divorce and living at home with my wife and 17-year-old daughter. Should I move out? If I do, will it help or hinder getting back together, if I want to?"
Answer: "Sir, if you leave her stranded in the house with a 17-year-old daughter, both are probably ready to have fun and forget you when you're gone. If you want this woman, stay on the premises because who knows who's going to sneak into your home."
Who is this outspoken, earthy sage? Watching the trim, energetic Allen at work, deftly firing quips and effortlessly controlling her audience, a theatrical background seems likely, maybe some stand-up comedy.
But the 56-year-old mother of four daughters who commands the mike is, by her own description, "a shy person, very reticent and quiet." She's a recovering alcoholic whose background, which she candidly shares with her audiences, includes three failed marriages, attempted suicide and periods of obesity and mental instability that 20 years ago impelled her into therapy--which changed her life.
She says: "I was married, teaching art and working on my master's degree in art at Cal State Fullerton when I went wacko, got into therapy and found it was fascinating. Eventually I got my Ph.D. in psychology at Golden State College and discovered, through my therapy, training and teaching, that I had a natural wit. . . . It's difficult for me to open up with new people until I feel safe, but I feel totally safe in front of any audience."
Allen's Westwood seminars evolved out of the training sessions she was required to conduct as an intern to obtain her counseling license. Those weekly Orange County sessions, which began with a group of five friends, quickly grew. Since the move to the Westwood Playhouse last August, she regularly draws at least 300 people, at $10 each.
Her reputation has grown along with her audiences, and she's much in demand for radio and television talk shows. Today, for example, her comments will air on KROQ at 7 a.m. and on KABC at 3 p.m., observing Valentine's Day with her trademark mix of humor and advice to bewildered combatants in the relationship trenches.
She'd like her own national television talk show, she says in an interview, "because I have a gift for entertaining people, and because I'm able to give significant spiritual information from a core of pure traditionalism behind a facade of being provocative, profane and funny.
"I come from a dark place and I like to tell where I've been, what I've done and where I'm going as a way for people who are severely disabled, like myself, to follow me.
"The sessions I do in Westwood are show business and fun," she says, readily acknowledging that "they don't go deep enough to teach real skills." And, in fact, she does practice serious and substantive therapy privately from her offices in Century City and Newport Beach.
Her words are serious, her advice is based on her therapeutic training, but her Westwood delivery is raucously funny--and people in the audience scream with delight when her zingers hit home.