There are voices -- some nastier than others -- in Lauren Weedman's head, and lucky for us, she's letting them out to play. Weedman brings her frenetic one-woman show Bust to City Theatre for a five-week run starting May 23. In it, she jumps flawlessly between dozens of characters and situations, bringing them sparklingly to life.
The acclaimed show chronicles Weedman's real-life stint as a volunteer in the Los Angeles prison system, the nation's most violent and overcrowded. She is paired with three female offenders, alternately trying to befriend them, save them, or just sit in awe of them. It was an intense year in her own life, and the prisoners' stories in some ways paralleled her own.
It was show business and a divorce that brought the reluctant Weedman, a "white girl from Indiana," into the city of actresses, auditions and glute workouts. She volunteered (with a group that will receive a portion of the show's proceeds) as shelter from the mindlessness of her contemporaries -- which she skewers hilariously.
After an orientation by turns comic and gut-wrenching, Weedman meets her first prisoner, a kinetic Native American prostitute who changes her story from day to day: She wants out of the business, she wants back in, she just wants a friend. The next is an incredibly put-upon fraudster who makes impossible demands. Finally, Weedman meets the dignified and violent Gabriela, who doesn't expect very much from her volunteer friend.
Meanwhile, Weedman was forced to deal with the fallout from an incident in her college years, when she had falsely claimed she was raped. An earlier play, Wreckage, had been about exorcising the demons of that Big Lie. The editors of Glamour magazine heard about the play and asked her to write about the ordeal.
Weedman thought the article might help her transcend her mistake, and turn her into a sought-after speaker to women's groups at colleges.
"Here's this huge mistake I made in my life that I get to sell. I sold it, I got money for it, I even did a photo shoot," Weedman says now, by phone from L.A. "I had this stupid idea I would have some control over it."
But -- amazingly enough -- the article (which was published while she was volunteering at the prison) made her look bad. Really, really bad. In Bust, Weedman mines the brutal comments from the magazine's online message boards -- calling her a monster, hoping that she actually does get raped.
"I would have no sympathy for that person," she says of the Weedman who's portrayed in the article. "'Enough with the rape lie; how much more mileage are you going to get out of that?' I was so dumb to think that people weren't saying that."
Because the magazine didn't give her a fair shake, and people judged her based on that distorted image, Weedman saw similarities between herself and the prisoners.
"I felt like I was sitting there with women facing the fact that they had made huge mistakes," Weedman says.
As a solo show, Bust has evolved as Weedman has performed it nationally. "When I wrote the story, initially it was about the idea of being bad, and then it shifted to everyone just wanting to be heard -- that was so huge in the jails."
The show almost ends on a pat, loving, mushy note -- but it doesn't. Weedman (who's a former Daily Show correspondent) is confronted with a piece of information about herself that is both true -- deliciously so, for celebrity-gossip fiends in the audience -- and has worked its way even to the prisoners.
"It's not like, 'It turned out I'm an amazing person, I've changed' ... I'm still a fuck-up," she says of the ending. "As soon as I start to believe that, 'Dammit, I am better than I thought' -- then like two seconds later someone's like, 'Lauren, we caught you.'"
Bust Fri., May 23-June 29. City Theatre, 1300 Bingham St., South Side. $20-36 (discounts available). 412-431-2489 or www.citytheatrecompany.org