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'What Ever' Outtakes Get Uneven Showcase

December 08, 2000|PHILIP BRANDES

"It's important that we remember who we really are," cautions Violet, an aging patrician New Yorker, ruminating on her poodle's birthday party (and by extension, the passage of time itself). "No one else will."

Performance artist Heather Woodbury aimed to stave off that slide into oblivion, chronicling the adventures of Violet and more than 100 other characters in "What Ever," her sweeping, eight-act solo epic. Parlaying an ace reporter's eye for telling detail and a mimic's ear for nuances of dialect, Woodbury's ability to weave a rich tapestry of Americana is impressively evident in a pair of one-acts at the Evidence Room. Featuring unused segments originally developed for "What Ever," these Dudley Saunders-directed "outtakes" reflect divergent strategies for showcasing Woodbury's creations, with differing effectiveness.

"The Lost Christmas Episode," which opens the evening, mirrors the construction of "What Ever" as a whole--interlocking scenes tracing the sometimes parallel, sometimes interconnecting paths of Woodbury's characters during the Yuletide season. In addition to Violet, we drop in on Clove, a 'shroom-gobbling high school girl, a hitchhiking raver dude in a chance meeting with the pregnant Midwestern teen who picks him up, an ideologically splintered Virginia family desperately maintaining an amicable veneer through Christmas dinner, and a pack of shivering New York City prostitutes huddling around meager sparks of goodwill. Reminiscent of Robert Altman's "Nashville," these quick cuts evoke the sprawl of everyday life and keep the characters fresh.

"Violet With Shades of Blue" focuses on the veteran spinster as she dotes on her dog and waits for invited guests who will never arrive. Among Woodbury's stable, Violet is the most developed and shaded, and the actor's handling of upper-class WASP inflections is masterful. Nevertheless, there's no forward momentum in Violet's meandering stories, and as a result, an uninterrupted hour in her company wears thin. The episodic structure of the first act may lack the traditional dramatic hierarchy of a central protagonist and peripheral characters, but it's better suited to Woodbury's overall vision.

* "Violet With Shades of Blue" and "The Lost Christmas Episode," Evidence Room, 2220 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles. Thursdays-Sundays, 8 p.m. Dark this Sunday. Indefinitely. $15-20. (213) 381-7118. Running time: 2 hours.

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