On any given day, the Los Angeles County jail system holds over 18,000 men and women in custody—160,000, all told, in 2010. Seven or more men share cells built for four in buildings so foul that, according to Lauren Weedman's autobiographical play about volunteering there as an inmate advocate, visitors are warned "not to touch the walls or railings [because] there is staph infection everywhere."
Weedman's story is about more than inhumane jail conditions, weaving her visits to the jail with the humiliation of commercial auditions, the publication of a terrible personal story in Glamour and the general frivolity of the lives of the not-quite-famous. It is riotously funny and also quite dark and unsettling. The stories of the inmates she meets reach beyond the failings of the justice system, probing the nature of shame and deceit. But it is the sense of overpopulation that lingers long past Weedman's 90-minute performance, perhaps because the work itself teems with life.
Where a lesser performer might fall back on narration to convey her reaction to all this horror, Weedman, a veteran of The Daily Show and Reno 911, never once breaks character. She is a remarkable observer of behavior, and every person she encounters, in the jail and health spa and audition room, appears fully realized, conveying entire biographies through voice and stance, each of them immediately recognizable, never bleeding into one another. Most of the inhabitants of Weedman's world are more believable, indeed, than her portrayal of herself as a compulsive blabbermouth, at once insecure and self-obsessed, who tells the other women at the volunteer orientation that she wants "to do something not about me" and then spends five minutes babbling about her own problems. "Lauren" is insufferable and unable to control her need to crack jokes, even at the most inappropriate times, to draw attention to herself. I assume the character is exaggerated to the point of fiction—it is impossible to imagine that anyone could be both this egoistic and so sensitive to the manners and desires of the people around her.
SEE IT: Gerding Theater, 128 NW 11th Ave., 445-3700. 7:30 pm Tuesdays-Wednesdays and Fridays, 2 and 7:30 pm Saturdays and Sundays, noon and 7:30 pm Thursdays, through June 19. $18-$40.