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Tale of Two Solo Shows

By and large, I’m not a fan of solo shows, as they tend to be one-note wonders with self-aggrandizing as the goal. But I had compelling reasons to see each of the two shows with which I’m about to regal you. In the case of the first, Penny Arcade, I had heard of her ‘way back in the 70s and 80s as one of the in-crowd at Max’s Kansas City (one of my boyfriends had been a bar-tender there). I was anxious to find out what she had been doing since then. As for the second show, sight (and information) unseen, I was intrigued by what I considered a dorky title, Woody’s Order, and decided to find out reasons for it.

The two shows couldn’t have been more different.

Longing Lasts Longer performed by Penny Arcade

In the UCLA offering, Penny (her real name, she cheerfully declares, is “Susannah Ventura”) started out in the massive Freud auditorium, chattering away as the audience walked in and sat down. Although she seemed welcoming, there was that New York, almost-insulting edge to her patter. Climbing up to the stage, she commenced an hour and a half of rambling commentary sprinkled with scholarly references from the likes of Guy Debord in his “Society of Spectacle.” Haphazardly navigating the last 20 years of societal decay, Arcade kept losing her place in “the script,” then picking up in the same tone of outrage from a moment before. As a result, her sentiment just did not ring true.

At the end, I was shocked to discover that this shapeless diatribe had received quite a few awards. It reinforces my view that CAP programmers seem to be selecting from a menu of packaged offerings that are, with a few exceptions, not suited to the venues in which they are mounted. Penny Arcade tried to make the best of the under-full Freud auditorium, But the theatre, admittedly with a smaller seat-count than Royce, cannot sustain such small performances that are better suited to the Campus Little Theatre or even a black box.

Woody’s Order by Ann Talman

Last week, I discovered what Woody’s Order was all about. Playing under the auspices of the EST/LA in the small, 50 seat Atwater Village Theatre, Ann Talman’s play, by contrast, was visual as well as aural, tightly written and well-rehearsed. Talman’s career is strewn with top Broadway and television credits, but her most treasured role, as related in her affecting performance piece, was her older brother’s “order” for a sibling to care for him in later years. Woody had cerebral palsy and needed continual care from the moment he was born. When Ann came along nine years later, she readily took on tasks to help Woody, even when she was too young to perform them for herself. Through home movies, slides, and especially, poloroids (remember them?), we witnessed the Talman family in action. Even when Ann’s career took off and she eventually married, Woody stayed at the center of her attention.

With great specificity, Talman’s scripted journey, developed at EST/LA and the Pittsburgh Playhouse, grows ever more heart-warming and instructive in the telling. For an interview in Better Lemons, she related, “[Even] if in your life you are faced with adversity or infirmity, you can get through it especially with love, laughter, and a little help from your friends.” That is, indeed, the message that comes through, loud and clear,
in Woody’s Order.

UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance (CAP) presented Penny Arcade at Freud Playhouse on the UCLA Campus in Westwood on April 8 and 9, 2017. For information on more CAP programs, phone (310) 825-2101 or HYPERLINK ""

Woody’s Order, produced by EST/LA ran from March 25th to April 22rd at the Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90039. For more EST/LA programs see HYPERLINK "".