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THEATER REVIEW

Just whose life is restricted?

A woman volunteers to work with prisoners in `Bust' and ends up wondering where the cell boundaries end.

March 24, 2007|Daryl H. Miller | Times Staff Writer

Perhaps this time, Lauren Weedman is in over her head.

Moments ago, she was blathering into a cellphone, thinking her biggest problem was an icky hookup with a guy the night before. Now she's being warned: "Remember not to touch the walls or railings -- there is staph infection everywhere."

Depicting a who-knows-how-fictionalized version of herself in the solo show "Bust," the writer-performer has arrived -- late -- for an orientation meeting to be a volunteer advocate for those incarcerated in Southern California's penal system. She will soon realize just how tangled and nightmarish a system this can be, while we, watching from the relative safety of our seats at REDCAT, come to understand that it's not the only tangled, nightmarish system with which she must cope.

The laugh-out-loud show is being given a brief run that ends tonight. In it, Weedman, best known as a former faux-correspondent for Comedy Central's "The Daily Show," displays a keen eye for human foibles, none more mercilessly revealed than her own.

"I wanted to do something that was not about me," she says as the volunteers take turns introducing themselves. Then she hijacks the meeting's focus to make it all about her.

Weedman is also a sharp chronicler of the larger social context. Shifting from character to character with such swift precision that she seems to be executing filmic jump-cuts, she sketches a series of inmates whose lives are bound up in poverty and abuse. She doesn't let them off easy, but she also subtly takes note that many of their worst behaviors have been socialized into them.

Directed by Allison Narver, Weedman performs in typical L.A. gear: tight white tank top, dark trousers and boots. The institutional context is created mostly through suggestion. Performing on an essentially bare stage, Weedman moves through shafts of light, following color-coded tape along prison corridors. She encounters ear-piercing buzzers and alarms; she is shut in by the slam of metal doors.

But perhaps she is never so imprisoned as when she's in the free world, fuming at her treatment during a cattle call for a Pepsi commercial or being seduced by a payday if she turns a deeply personal bit of her life into a story for a fashion magazine.

Whether exercising on Santa Monica's 4th Street stairs or sweating in a health club steam room, Weedman is confined in a sad, desperate world where she craves connection with other inmates and desires their approval.

"If I'm going to the jails simply because I want to find the one environment in L.A. where I have a shot at being the prettiest girl in the room, that's pathetic," she confesses to the other volunteers. "If I'm heading to the jails to feel successful -- I mean, it's hard to feel successful."

daryl.miller@latimes.com

*

`Bust'

Where: REDCAT at Walt Disney Concert Hall, 631 W. 2nd St., L.A.

When: 8:30 tonight

Price: $22

Contact: (213) 237-2800 or www.redcat.org

Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes

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