Lauren Weedman is an absolute original. It’s hard to categorize her one-woman shows, which range from something approaching traditional monologue to her latest outing, a series of vignettes in which she plays a range of neurotic characters from a teenage boy to a worker at an adoption agency.
In this 90-minute show, which kicks off Theatre Off Jackson’s Solo Performance Festival, Weedman, a veteran of "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" and NPR's "Rewind," draws her main theme from the fact of her adoption.
By her own admission, Weedman is fighting off the demons of that adoption, which may account for the fact that though there are some hilarious moments, No…You Shut Up is the most unfocused of her recent shows. It may be that Weedman is simply too close to the material and allowed her emotions to run away with what could have been a searing exploration of how being adopted has shaped her life. In No…You Shut Up, she seems to be trying too hard — to understand her adopted mother’s feelings, her own inability to form a lasting relationship, and family life in general.
Of course, the “Lauren” in this play may or may not hew close to the real Lauren Weedman but no matter. The character Lauren is clearly a lost soul trying to find the answer to who knows what (presumably a sense of self but that’s not obvious) by visiting her mother, old friends, her boyfriend’s family, and a tattoo parlor.
What binds these vignettes together is “Lauren’s” motor-mouthed freneticism, which Weedman delivers at fever pitch in a nonstop flood of hilarious one-liners. As funny as her characterizations are — she’s especially wacky as a teenaged girl afraid to go down to the basement and as the adoption-agency worker — she goes too much for laughs and misses the human pain at the core of the small tales she tells.
She also bounces around the stage too much. Her brand of physical comedy works well in small doses, but here she uses a giant hypodermic to inject her characters, and us, with far too much adrenaline. The result is a one-note tune that never gives us the time to absorb what she’s just said or the space to feel the effects of the sometimes-pathetic situations she’s depicting. The end result is a performance that feels more like an assault than an invitation to engage.
Having said all this, like all of Weedman’s performances, No…You Shut Up is worth seeing. Weedman can hold an audience with the slightest raise of an eyebrow or droop of the mouth. Her face is extremely elastic and can go from total cluelessness to profound hurt in a flash.
She also has the ability to create a two-person interaction instantly, switching physical places or simply talking into the air. The first scene, in which she jabbers away at a male seatmate on a plane, immediately establishes both a physical and emotional environment, a technique she uses over and over again as the scene moves to her childhood home, a friend’s house, the inside of a car, or a bowling alley.
With such talent at her disposal, it’s especially disappointing when Weedman falls short of her mark. You can’t help being pulled in by her full-throttle energy and commitment, but in No…You Shut Up, it’s not clear what the end result is intended to be.
If you go: No…You Shut Up, by Lauren Weedman, through April 17 at Theatre Off Jackson, 409 Seventh Ave. S.. Tickets cost $17 advance ($20 at the door) and are available at the box office or online. The Solo Performance Festival continues at Theatre Off Jackson with presentations by other artists through May 7.