There may be people in L.A. who would find Ruby Wax's one-woman show, "Ruby Wax: Out of Her Mind," now at the Broad Stage's Edye Second Space, inaccessible.
For example, those emotionally stable, positive thinkers who have never had a moment's self-doubt, much less stayed in bed for days at a stretch or considered walking into traffic. Or the no-nonsense type who would advise a depressed friend to "perk up." But if L.A. contains such people -- and a survey of drivers at peak traffic hours might not turn up many -- I don't want to meet them.
Wax, born in Illinois, moved as a young woman to England, where she has had a diverse career as an actor (with the Royal Shakespeare Company), a TV writer ("Absolutely Fabulous"), a comedian, a talk-show host, a wife, a mother of three and, most recently, a graduate of Oxford University with a master's in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy.
She says that both her academic study and this one-woman show were inspired by her own "mental illness," as she calls the severe bouts of depression that led her to stays in institutions. The show is billed as "an innovative comedy about mental illness." As I took my seat, I couldn't help wondering what "innovative" would mean.
Wax, a petite, curvy woman with enormous eyes, teeth and hair, was already onstage, sitting in an office chair, alternately sipping tea, checking an iPhone and fixing on members of the audience with an alert, slightly wolfish expression -- as though tempted to join in our murmured conversations.
Lighting designer Tim Mascall had bathed the stage floor in lurid red light that made everybody look deeply embarrassed (luckily it faded when the show began). Fearing that enforced audience participation was imminent, I kept a hand on my inhaler.
An hour later, I was a Ruby Wax convert, not only disappointed that her act was over but also actually looking forward to the post-show discussion -- an element she said had been a hit in the mental institutions where she initially toured this show. ("Let me tell you, if you can make a schizophrenic laugh, you're halfway to Broadway," she quipped. "And the bipolars say, 'I laughed, I cried.'")
It was essentially group therapy. Won over by the self-deprecating honesty of Wax's confessions (and intrigued by the brain science she had presented while wearing a lab coat), audience members described their own struggles with depression, even listing the meds they'd tried. "I could listen to this all night," said Wax, pretending to suck her thumb in bliss. She said she'd conceived her show as a way for depressives to meet. "I mean, drunks have AA. How'd they get so organized? They're drunks!"
Wax, so well known in England that she described taxi drivers calling out to her on the street, is not such a household name here. Maybe that's why her audience on opening night was sparse, especially compared to the crowd at "Freud's Last Session" (or "Freud's Last Stand," as Wax called it) playing on the Broad's main stage.
"I'm so happy to be here in this teeny, teeny theater," Wax said dryly. "So close to the big one, yet so far." Yes, Freud is the father of modern psychology, but Wax's warm, disarming approach is entertaining and cathartic enough that she may eventually require the bigger stage.
"Ruby Wax: Out of Her Mind," the Edye at the Broad Stage, 1310 11th St., Santa Monica. 7 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays, 3 and 7 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. $40 and $50. Ends Feb. 3. (310) 434-3200 or www.thebroadstage.com. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.