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A CurtainUp Review
The two women in question here are Lynn and Leenya Rideout. Lynn is Leenya's mother, a staunch church-going woman who lives in western Washington state and has painted nonconventional art her entire life; Leenya is her adult daughter who lives in New York and is an actress-singer-songwriter turned playwright. Rideout of course will inhabit them both and try to revivify their past in her play or, as she puts it in her program note: "I've sewn together my songs and stories to bring you this mostly true tale of two Wild Women."
Leenya's journey begins at a pub in Long Island during a snowstorm. But don't expect to sit back and just inhale her story as you would a traditional narrative. When the lights go up, we see Leenya enter down the center aisle of the theater in a frantic rush, carrying a fiddle case and two bottles of beer. She's wearing several layers of jackets and sweaters. There's Irish Punk music blaring in the background. But no matter. Leenya shows us she has a good set of lungs and can shout over the cacophony: "I'm here! I'm here! I made it! I can't believe it . . .it is snowing so hard out there!" Say what you will about the rest of Rideout's presentation, she clearly knows how to capture an audience's attention in a nanosecond.
If the Prologue is arresting, the sequence that follows is charged with similar intensity. Leenya briefly introduces herself as the fiddle player and back-up singer for the band Druid's Revenge. She explains that the "Polar vortex" weather sidetracked the men in the band "several exits back on the LIE." Undeterred, she gazes squarely at the audience and gamely announces: "Lady's Night."
Leenya immediately picks up her fiddle and launches into the first song, "Don't Let Her Fool Ya." It's a ballad about her mother Lynn that describes her as a fadin' violet and church lady who will "blend into the woodwork" and let others shine. But the refrain, "don't let her fool ya," effectively undercuts Lynn's starchy religious facade. By the time the song fades out, the audience knows that a pious surface doesn't tell all.
Wild Abandon is more than a memoir. It's a rich tapestry of narrative, over a dozen songs played by Leenya on eight musical instruments, including the bodhran, a traditional Celtic drum. It clocks in at only 90 minutes sans intermission— enough time for the performer-playwright to impart a layered double portrait of her mother and herself.
No, this isn't a case of an author-performer indulging herself by telling us about her glowing theater achievements, though she has performed on Broadway in Cabaret, War Horse (Leenya played a horse!), and Cyrano de Bergerac. It's also NOT about how her mother's lovingly supported of Leenya's acting career.Lynn actually had many misgivings about Leenya's showbiz career. Though she reluctantly played the stage mother, Lynn continually tried to interest her daughter in pursuing a more conventional life.
Wild Abandon is at its best when it skirts and states the thorny issues that arose between Lynn and Leenya as they struggled to understand each other's separate lives and goals. Take the moment when Leenya recalls her mother playing matchmaker and arranging a date for her with Olivier, an available man from France whom as Leenya soon discovered, never used deodorant. Then there's the more serious time when Lynn is diagnosed with breast cancer and must undergo a mastectomy and Leenya couldn't be there for the operation because of a theater festival commitment though she was on hand when she was convalescing, delighted to see that the family's old wooden shed had been transformed into an artist studio for her mother to continue her painting.
There's some striking stage business and use of props, particularly in the play's closing sequences where the subject at hand (Lynn's paintings of a Madonna and child ) becomes the subject in hand (Leenya takes down several of her mother's real paintings of a Madonna and child from the walls of the stage). What makes this so powerful is that the author ping-pongs back and forth between the personas of Lynn and Leenya, almost blurring the two women into one, though it's at tunes difficult to knowwho is speaking, and who listening. But what does come across in spades is the genuine love between this mother and daughter.
Whether it's tripping the light fantastic (that would be Leenya) or domestic (that would be Lynn), Wild Abandon ultimately reveals that this mother-and-daughter duo, however different in temperament, share a passion for art and have lived, and continue to live, outside the lines.
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Wild Abandon by Leenya Rideout
Directed by Lisa Rothe
Cast: Leenya Rideout (Lynn Rideout, Leenya Rideout).
Set and costume design: Narelle Sissons
Lighting: Mike Baldassari
Sound: Brendan Aanes
Original art: Lynn Rideout
Stage Manager: April Ann Kline
At the W. Scott McLucas Studio Stage (at the Irish Repertory Theatre), 132 West 22nd Street, Chelsea neighborhood. Tickets: $50. Phone 212.727.2737 or visit online www.irishrep.org
From 9/19/18; opening 9/24/18; closing 10/21/18.
Wednesday @ 3pm & 8pm, Thursday @ 7pm, Friday @ 8pm, Saturday @ 3pm & 8pm, Sunday @ 3pm.
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission
Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan based on press performance of 9/22/18
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