one-person shows

Lauren Weedman’s Shadow Selves

The veteran solo performer contrasts glitzy, ditzy country girl "Tami" with sardonic comic Lauren to sneak up on a sad, true story from (at least) two sides.

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!”

The world of Tami Lisa, unveiled. Photo: Patrick Weishampel/blankeye

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.

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A cozy chat with Hershey Felder

The "Irving Berlin" creator and star talks about life, politics, the return of "Willesden Lane," and his New Year's Eve singalong at the Armory

By ALICE HARDESTY

If you’re feeling the holiday blues or post-election anxiety, or you’re depressed by a seemingly irreparable schism in the American population, you should come to Portland Center Stage to see and hear Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin. Come before the show closes on Friday. Or even if you’ve seen it already, come to the big Great American Songbook Singalong on New Year’s Eve. You will, once again, feel the warmth of community. You’ll see the son of Jewish immigrants call up the life of an iconic Jewish immigrant in song, piano music, and storytelling. At times you can sing along, softly or lustily, as have many audiences before you. And you may shed a few tears. But for sure, you’ll leave with a smile and a warm heart.

Hershey Felder in the world premiere production of “Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin” at Geffen Playhouse in 2014. Photo by Eighty Eight Entertainment.

On the recent Winter Solstice I had a warm conversation in a chilly Green Room with Felder, with occasional input from his director, Trevor Hay, and enthusiastic listening from PCS’s Claudie Jean Fisher. We touched on everything from the rigorous schedule of daily performances, to music and humanity, to the current state of nation.

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Berlin stories: the making of an American legend

Portland Center Stage's "Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin" sings and tells the story of the outsider who became the deeply driven voice of the nation

For all of the great American songwriter Irving Berlin’s genuine patriotism and genius for tapping the vitality of the nation’s popular spirit, he comes across in Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin as something of a dyspeptic old coot.

Then again, when we meet him (in a clever bit of stagecraft, as the invisible inhabitant of a wheelchair that sits stage right on the Mainstage at Portland Center Stage) he’s a disgruntled centenarian, crushed by the recent loss of his wife of more than sixty years, haunted by the feeling that the popular culture he did so much to help create has passed him by, and, mostly, just tired of life.

Fortunately his younger self, in the person of singer, pianist, playwright, and solo performer Felder, is on hand to speak for him, act as an intermediary between the very private Berlin and his adoring audience, and explain the personal and cultural context of the extraordinary book of roughly 1,500 songs for which the man born Israel Isidore Beilin (or Baline) wrote both music and lyrics, altering forever the landscape of American popular music.

Felder at the keyboard as Berlin. Photo: Eighty Eight Entertainment

Felder at the keyboard as Berlin. Photo: Eighty Eight Entertainment

In Friday night’s opening performance at Center Stage, Felder was a brash and pounding presence, attacking Berlin’s songs with dominating passion and the piano keyboard with emphatic fury, as if he were afraid some fugitive modern reinterpretation might escape and misrepresent Berlin’s original intentions. It seemed apt. Felder’s delivery of this bounty of songs was distinguished by a fidelity to the periods in which the music was composed, reaching back in spirit to the straightforwardness of Berlin’s hero Stephen Foster and for the most part (although he began his career writing tunes for the dance crazes that swept the nation in the early years of the 20th century) avoiding the syncopations of the swing and jazz revolutions that came to represent and in many ways reinvigorate the Great American Songbook. If Berlin’s songs were simple compared to Porter’s or Gershwin’s, they also had the power of directness. They were essentially American statements of optimistic populism, with a potent blend of honest sentimentality and the hard nut of basic truths. They were songs you could hum. Songs you did hum.

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