Into the life of a middle-aged Los Angeles actress, a little misfortune sometimes falls: Your HBO series gets canceled after two seasons; a messy divorce leaves you a single parent; menopause kicks in earlier than expected at 47.
Lauren Weedman experienced these setbacks in relatively short succession, but self-pity isn't part of her comedic repertoire. The actress, who was in HBO's "Looking," used the pain to propel her into a new one-woman musical show that charts a humorous course through her complicated life and career.
"Tammy/Lisa — From Misery to Meaning," which starts performances at REDCAT on Thursday, takes its title from the two names her teenage birth parents gave her before pursuing adoption. During her recent divorce, the actress felt her birth identity emerging once again.
"I felt kind of trashy," she said during a recent break in rehearsals, clarifying that she felt trashy in the trailer-park sense. "I live on the Westside [in Santa Monica] and I'm surrounded by wealth and wives who don't work. No offense to them."
She added: "The songs I was listening to after my divorce, the ones that were so satisfying and that I wanted to sing, were all the Loretta Lynn and Lucinda Williams ones. Any kind of revenge."
The result is a zany quasi-memoir that combines country-western music, variety show-style dancing, puppetry and other odd bits that had yet to be finalized despite an opening night that was only a week away.
As she did in her previous solo shows, including "Bust" at REDCAT in 2007, Weedman turns oversharing into a theatrical art form. She wins over audiences with her messy emotional confessions and her versatility as an actress evoking different characters.
"Her unpredictability puts you so much in the moment with her and you don't know what's going to happen. Sometimes it's mind-blowing and sometimes it's embarrassing in the best way," said Erica Beeney, the director of "Tammy/Lisa."
Weedman honed her comedy skills on "The Daily Show" on Comedy Central, as well as in memoirs that include this year's "Miss Fortune: Fresh Perspectives on Having It All from Someone Who Is Not Okay."
She spoke with great fondness for "Looking," the Andrew Haigh-directed series portraying a group of gay men in present-day San Francisco. The critically acclaimed show was canceled last year, but "Looking: The Movie" aired this summer as an elaborate farewell.
Making the movie "was such a blur," Weedman recalled. "I felt like grandma died, we said goodbye to her, and now we're digging her up. So now we have to grieve her again?"
She shares some traits with her on-screen character, Doris. "I like being around gay men. Sometimes it's better than being around a lot of actresses," she said.
The REDCAT show represents a sort of closing of the loop for the performer. She bartended at the theater when she first moved to L.A. more than a decade ago.
Weedman said her divorce was traumatic. "I had never had so much isolation," she said. And then came menopause. "I didn't even know what to hope for anymore."
All of this will trickle its way into the new stage show, though not necessarily in direct ways. The actress said she will fictionalize some elements of the narrative, but the performance is inspired by her life.
"The show is about — and this term is so dreary — midlife crisis. But for a woman," she said. "It's the journey of life falling apart … and looking to be saved.”