Backstage: ‘Bust’; ‘Seasonal Disorder’; holiday take on ‘My Mother’s Italian’

This holiday season, you’re probably thinking, “I would love to see a show about prison!”

Maybe it’s because Black Friday left you tired of pawing through piles of Christmas paraphernalia to find the only dreidel in the store. Maybe you’re over elbowing aggressive fellow shoppers while “Jingle Bell Rock” blasts in the background at the mall. Or maybe you would just like to embrace another aspect of this time of the year: namely, the part where you think of those less fortunate and give them an hour or two of your undivided attention.

(Owen Carey/ Owen Carey ) - Lauren Weedman in Studio Theatre's production of “Bust.”
  • (Owen Carey/ Owen Carey ) - Lauren Weedman in Studio Theatre's production of “Bust.”
  • (Andrew Bossi/ Washington Improv Theater ) - Mark Chalfant and Josh Waytz of Washington Improv Theater's improv ensemble “iMusical,” perform in “Seasonal Disorder.”
  • (Steve Solomon LLC/ Steve Solomon LLC ) - Steve Solomon performs his one-man show, “My Mother's Italian, My Father’s Jewish and I’m Home for the Holidays.”

(Owen Carey/ Owen Carey ) - Lauren Weedman in Studio Theatre's production of “Bust.”

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In that case, you could see “Bust,” a one-woman show by and starring Lauren Weedman opening Thursday at Studio Theatre. Weedman, a film and theater actress, memoirist and former correspondent for “The Daily Show,” spent a year and a half volunteering in the Los Angeles County women’s jail. The play integrates characters based on inmates Weedman met with her experiences as an actress in L.A. Commissioned for the Empty Space Theatre in Seattle five years ago, “Bust” has since been performed all over the country. Thursday night will mark the show’s first stint in Washington.

“It’s sort of about bad women,” Weedman explained. “Me included.”

“It’s interesting to look at how easily women can be stereotyped into becoming ‘bad’ women,” director Allison Narver said, “whether it’s the way Hollywood stereotypes women, or the way the world stereotypes women who are in jail. . . . Because there are complicated stories behind every woman in jail. Every human experience is a complex, complicated, sometimes extremely contradictory one. And no matter what the story is, it deserves to be heard.”

The title, Weedman said, “came from a combination of the feminine bust, ‘busting out of jail’ and ‘getting busted.’ ”

“I have high expectations for what people are going to get from it” in Washington, Weedman said. “It’s a town that discusses and analyzes things.”

Thursday to Dec. 18, 1501 14th St. NW. www.studiotheatre.org. 202-332-3300.

Make ’em laugh

Washington, D.C., doesn’t exactly have a reputation for its fantastic sense of humor. Politically savvy? Obviously. Well-educated? Sure. But funny? As in, intentionally funny? Funny is New York. Funny is Chicago. Funny is L.A.

And, apparently, funny is D.C.

“It’s like this underground, unspoken scene. But it’s filled with D.C. lawyers and bankers and wonks, and one of the reasons they get up in the morning is because improv is awesome,” said Rachel Grossman, Washington Improv Theater’s managing director.

For evidence of this homegrown hilarity, see one of 35 performances in “Seasonal Disorder,” WIT’s run of shows that begins Thursday and continues through New Year’s Eve. All in, more than 100 performers will appear on WIT’s stage. The schedule is “an ongoing, shifting repertory model,” said Mark Chalfant, the artistic/executive director of WIT. “It’s like a festival model.”

Chalfant says this is the time of year when audiences need improv comedy the most. “It’s a season where everyone is feeling so much pressure to plan and plan and be perfect, and execute everything to be perfect,” he said. “And they can come see an improv show that really embraces the frenetic energy and the chaos, and the fun people can have when they don’t plan.”

The hall-decking atmosphere also provides an endless stream of material, Chalfant said. “When you ask an audience member, ‘What does Christmas mean to you?’ that’s illuminating.”

Thursday to Dec. 31, 1835 14th St. NW.
washingtonimprovtheater.com. 202-204-7770.

Family matters

Steve Solomon describes his one-man show, “My Mother’s Italian, My Father’s Jewish and I’m Home for the Holidays” like so: “It’s a depressing maudlin adventure into death, turmoil and hatred.”

Then he laughs. “It’s about me coming home for the holidays and getting stuck in the Atlanta airport with everybody else because of the weather. And there’s the phone calls back and forth with my family, and all the airport announcements. It’s just a belly laugh.”

“Home for the Holidays” is the third incarnation of Solomon’s original show — same Mom and Dad, but instead of the holiday theme, Solomon was in therapy — which was followed by the second version, in which Solomon was “still in therapy.” This latest take has been touring for the past few years.

“I learned from the first two shows,” said Solomon, who created and stars in the production. “I took the best of that technique and put it into the third. . . . It works with the audience [because] they relate to everything. . . . There’s the stuff between the Italian family and the Jewish family, the chaos with Christmas [conflicting] with Hanukkah. Plus the travel. Everybody travels.”

Solomon does nearly 30 voices throughout the performance, from the gravely three-packs-a-day growl of his sister the smoker to the high-pitched, nasal squeal of his ex-wife (who, at least according to Solomon, was not offended by the portrayal).

“It’s all real,” he said of the characters. “Is it exaggerated? Yes, of course it is . . . [but] they’ve seen it and they recognize themselves.”

Although the show is scripted, Solomon takes inadvertent prompts from the audience, like an errant cellphone ring, as cues to improvise.

Don’t worry about him being too hard on you, though. He’s already a fan of Washington. “This crowd gets it,” he said. “You don’t have to struggle with the jokes. They’re a sophisticated audience.”

Wednesday-Friday, Barns at Wolf Trap, 1635 Trap Rd., Vienna. www.wolftrap.org. 877-WOLFTRAP.

‘You, Nero’s’ new Scribonius

Jeff McCarthy will replace Marc Vietor in the role of Scribonius in Arena Stage’s “You, Nero.” McCarthy, a Broadway veteran (Billy Flynn in “Chicago,” Beast in “Beauty and the Beast,” among others), played Scribonius in a 2009 Berkeley Repertory Theatre production.

As a result of the casting change, four preview performances have been canceled. “You, Nero” will be back to its original schedule at 8 p.m. Saturday.

The show will open Dec. 8. Ticket holders with questions should contact the Arena sales office at 202-488-3300.

 
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