Tami Lisa is the fictitious host of a country-twanged, retro-era variety show embellished with dancers, tinsel curtains, cheesy jokes and a mouthy house band. Tami Lisa can both laugh with, and be laughed at by, her guests and her audience. And Tami Lisa’s imaginary husband is leaving her for their pretend babysitter.
Meanwhile, Lauren Weedman is a self-deprecating solo theater performer, neurotically processing some of the things she’s been through by spouting them out loud. And what’s she been through? Well, among other things, the real Lauren Weedman’s real husband has left her for their real babysitter.
Lauren Weedman Doesn’t Live Here Anymore—surely a reference to the song Love Don’t Live Here Anymore?—is filling the PCS mainstage with a melange of music, monologue, and character impression that switches between first-person confessions from Weedman and kooky meta-onstage antics by her blown-out alter-ego Tami, who “interacts” with show guests by quick-switching her voice and posture to play both them and herself in conversation. As Tami Lisa’s husband Roman, she straddles the stage in a Captain Morgan pose, tucks in her neck and affects a Johnny Cash baritone. As Lucinda Williams, she does a husky whisper and a raw singing voice, juxtaposing that directly with a light, silly Tami Lisa on the uke for a whiplash-inducing “duet” of Sweet Side. As Wynona Judd, she puts on a cockeyed expression and rants menacingly about taking romantic revenge. As “Cornbread,” the guitarist from Tami’s band, she challenges Tami’s self-reliance, and as Tami she snaps back, “I can be alone!”
If all of that sounds hard to follow, it’s not when you see it in action. “Tami Lisa,” Weedman explains, was the name she was given by her birth parents before being adopted, and hence has become a vibrant figure in her imagination of an alternate self who’d been raised by those parents. The other characters range from Weedman’s real music idols to fictitious tropes of a country/variety environment. To support Lauren/Tami transitions visually, the stage frequently quick-switches, unfurling tinsel curtains to complement Tami’s shallow sparkle, then snapping them back to reveal both the set’s and Weedman’s stark, shadowy depths. A big vanity-lit “Tami Lisa” sign lights up when “the show” is on, and darkens but remains onstage when Tami is on set but we’re to understand she’s not shooting. It disappears when it’s time to hear from just Weedman, perched on a black stool spilling home truths.
Vanity light bulbs, incidentally, have become a recurring motif in Weedman’s works; they ringed her portrait in the artwork for her prior show No…You Shutup, and here, they adorn both the Tami Lisa sign and, apparently, the mirror behind the far back curtain of the set that Weedman makes a shadow play of primping in. Sibyl Wickersheimer has made the set incredibly modular to accommodate both this show and Blitzen Trapper’s Wild and Reckless in rep. In Reckless, the set becomes a tunnel surrounded by screens projecting gritty industrial imagery and grainy scenery. In Live Here, the set is at its most cavernous when Weedman sings a personalized version of Is That All There Is?, recounting memories of her first kiss as…let’s say less-than-romantic. She retreats far upstage and is practically swallowed. The effect, surely intentional, is a small lost figure.
In early workshops including last summer’s JAW, Weedman toyed with costume and wig-switching, but she’s since apparently decided against them. She opts instead for all-black minimalist westernwear that passes for real or rhinestone cowgirl, and fluffs her own blonde hair into a style that can seem both southern on Tami, and flustered on Lauren.
Most of Portland has become familiar with Weedman through Portland Center Stage. Before this show, PCS commissioned her show The People’s Republic of Portland; before that, they presented her prison comedy BUST in the basement. But Weedman’s performance history in Portland didn’t start at PCS. Before BUST came to PCS, it played in The Woods, a Sellwood funeral-home-turned-music-venue that improbably managed to lure the likes of Sean Lennon and Robyn Hitchcock before abruptly closing in 2011. A little later, BackFence PDX brought a lesser-known Weedman vehicle, No…You Shutup, to Disjecta.
Though she’s LA-based, Weedman certainly has aspects of the Portland persona down pat: music-obsession, self-consciousness/awareness/improvement, and looking for answers at Powell’s Books. When I interviewed her a few months ago for Artslandia, she revealed that a trip to Powell’s had put her on a Jungian psychology kick, and that Carl Jung’s perspective on “the middle passage” of middle age had heavily influenced her approach to this show. While her take on middle age seems less psychological than observational (even Italian waiters in Rome didn’t flirt with her; she has a surplus of advice that no one wants to hear; she tries and fails to suppress her insecurity around pretty younger women like her babysitter) her Jungian theories come out another way. Jung was the seminal describer of the “shadow self,” and here, Weedman is showing us at least two Laurens. But which is the shadow self—Tami, Lauren, or any of the celebrity cameos? That might be a fun mystery to puzzle through during her antics.
The thing about a Weedman show is that the whole is generally far greater than the sum of its parts. It’s not that any one line or move or song is delivered perfectly, per se, it’s that her fearlessness and imagination are a marvel all their own—a fun-to-watch firecracker. She’s frank. She’s wry. And her pace is spry. She picks up an idea, and as soon as you know where she’s going with it, she drops it like a hot potato. The time whisks by, and we are indeed entertained, but behind the glitz and kitsch there’s a shadow of self-sacrifice. “I don’t want this to be my life,” Weedman admits. But making art from tragedy is a country tradition. So you fluff your hair up to high heaven and put on a show.
Portland Center Stage’s Lauren Weedman Doesn’t Live Here Anymore continues through April 30 in the Armory. Ticket and schedule information here.