It would be easy to carp about Lauren Weedman’s mispronunciation and misnaming of this newspaper (on opening night, she referred to it as “Will-uh-met Weekly”). But that would be too simple, and just a bit cheap. No, I applaud Weedman, a Los Angeles resident and former Daily Show correspondent, for picking up a copy of WW in her mission to understand our city, a quest she details in this solo show commissioned by Portland Center Stage. But Weedman—an affable monologist, gifted physical comedian and pretty decent dancer—may well have lost this one before she even started. Though her talents are on display, The People’s Republic of Portland winds up somewhere between Portlandia-style potshots and The New York Times’ lovey-dovey coos, with Weedman’s confessional bursts more genuine than those on The Real World but still not meaty enough to carry the performance.
The 90-minute show, directed by Rose Riordan, has live-wire Weedman bouncing between humorous anecdotes, skillful character impersonations, hip-hop dance breaks and thoughts about her family. These personal considerations—Weedman’s perpetual sense of dislocation, her husband’s work that takes him to Alaska every summer, her desire for her son to grow up somewhere nurturing—provide a loose framework, but they’re underdeveloped. Weedman’s observations about Portland, meanwhile, hit too many of the expected beats. The show has a bearded barista, a public transit proselytizer, a tattooed stripper, gaggles of Amelie look-alikes, geek trivia whizzes and a woman rhapsodizing about her vision quest at an ecstatic dance party. There’s even a mention of fluoride. Weedman puts her chameleonic skills to good use: In seconds, she transforms from her blond ponytailed self into a husky-voiced, fidgety, drunken paralegal with a flannel fetish, and at another point she’s grapevining across the stage, imitating a stripper who looks like she belongs in Oklahoma! But it’s telling that one of opening night’s biggest laughs came from an impersonation of a whispery, anorexic Los Angeleno. “I’m so hungry,” Weedman sighed, crumpling to the stage.
Weedman—who speaks without punctuation or pause, animated to the point of near-hysteria—presents herself as unguarded, but there’s a caginess to her. It’s one of the things that makes her so engaging: There’s a sense she’s withholding something from the audience, or even from herself. But this undercurrent of anxiety pairs uneasily with her jokes, about strip clubs being the Applebee’s of Portland, about the Pearl District’s anti-kid streak, about aggressive DIY-ers, about Portlanders so in love with their city they chew up their passports. These gags aren’t unfunny, but they seem designed for PCS subscribers to chuckle knowingly about the quaint and quirky charms of our attention-loving city.
The video montages don’t help, particularly not an extended film set to “Home” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, in which we watch Weedman traipse about Portland. Look as she plays pinball! As she bikes across the Broadway Bridge! As she drinks beer! And coffee! And more beer! And more coffee! The whole montage rings false.
I left the show feeling bad, and almost embarrassed, for Weedman. She’s
witty and dynamic, and it’s clear she’s taken with Portland. But
Portland isn’t her wheelhouse, and People’s Republic feels
unfinished—and couldn’t somebody have told her how to pronounce the name
of the river that runs through our city?
SEE IT: The People’s Republic of Portland is at Gerding Theater, 128 NW 11th Ave., 445-3700. 7:30 pm Tuesdays-Sundays, 2 pm Sundays and select Saturdays, noon Thursdays through June 16. $34-$54.