Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Loveland: Good Grief
Frannie Potts is going to her childhood home in Loveland, Ohio, and she is not going to read or nap or do anything but relish every mile and minute of this cross-country escapade. Along the way, we and she will meet the uptight businessman beside her (who really wishes she would close her shade because of the glaring light, which she will not, of course), the sweet lady on the aisle (who mostly can say, "That's nice, honey"), and the syrupy-sweet attendant who, as the miles tick away and Frannie's antics get more and more bizarre, turns from Hyde to Jekyll. But what is really all that wrong with dancing in the aisle with headphones to "This Land Is Your Land," dreaming of having sex in Whole Foods while humping your seat in your sleep, or refusing to leave the locked bathroom during a severe storm as you are coming to grips with the fact that your beloved mother is now dead? And don't dare say to Frannie, "Sorry you lost your Mom" ("You lose keys") or "Sorry she passed away" ("You pass gas"). To Frannie, her mother is nothing less than "dead," something Frannie has actually yet to say out loud to anyone else.
As she marvels at the passing national parks and monuments below her and revels with grinning delight in a narrating captain's likened passions for the grand scenery below, Frannie also replays and shares with us a lifetime of memories. We get to meet her mother with a glass of chardonnay and a lit cigarette always in the same, swinging hand, giving raspy encouragements of "You can do anything, Frannie." We hear her and Frannie in a full rendering of "The Hallelujah Chorus" (joining in as fellow travelers for the big ending). We go with them up a tram to a national park's tallest peak and the souvenir shop on top, loved by wheelchair-bound Mom but detested by nature-loving Frannie who hated racing by "five ecosystems in eight minutes" rather than taking the three-hour hike up. And we are with them when Frannie surprises her now-demented mother on her birthday and attempts to liven up the aged nursing home gathering by pumping a melancholic-sounding organ singing, "Listen to the drone, it will help you die."
Ann Randolph's ability to perform innumerable calisthenics with her facial expressions, to switch between interacting persona in split seconds without missing a beat, and to call on voices that are usually familiar enough to jog some memory of our own but always unique enough to make us marvel is uncanny. In this one-woman, 70-minute show, she head-on tackles what it means at a deep, gut-wrenching level to deal with the death of a loved one. She vividly demonstrates how sometimes it takes total strangers coming together to offer the solace needed for that final step in the personal grieving cycle. At the same time, she keep us in stitches with humor that is sometimes homespun with its innocence and naivite and at other times is blushingly embarrassing and right out of a cheap sex novel. Through it all and in the end, we each too begin to remember someone who is no longer in our lives, someone we remember sitting on a river's edge with to watch the harvest moon, or someone who could both frustrate us to death and give us wonderful, unconditional love and attention.
Ann Randolph is a master in using her laugh-out-loud monologues to sneak up and touch her audiences' souls, leaving us as we exit with new insights and realizations about our own lives. She uses her stories to encourage us to remember and tell our own. (Audience members are encouraged in fact at the show's end to stick around and to write and share their own stories of grief and resolution.) Ann Randolph is comedian extraordinaire and self-made therapist all wrapped into one talented writer and actor, and her Loveland: Good Grief is well worth venturing to The Marsh to experience.
Loveland: Good Grief continues Saturdays at 5 p.m. through October 17, 2015, at the San Francisco Marsh Main Stage, 1062 Valencia Street at 22nd Street, San Francisco. Tickets are available online at themarsh.org or by calling the Box Office Monday - Friday, 1-4 p.m., 415-282-3055.
The Marsh, San Francisco, also presents Ann Randolph in Inappropriate in All the Right Ways, Sundays at 5 p.m. through November 1.
- Eddie Reynolds