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Heather Woodbury's

Written & Performed by Heather Woodbury

Director - Dudley Saunders
Lighting Designer - David Robkin

Producer - Alicia Hoge
Associate Producers - Jason Adams and Lauren Campedelli
Stage Manager - Beth Mack

Graphic Design - Colleen Wainwright

December 1 - 23, 2000


LA Weekly

Americana takes a far more muted form in Heather Woodbury’s holiday-themed one-woman show, Violet With Shades of Blue/The Lost Christmas Episode, at the Evidence Room – a re-compilation and, in some ways, expansion (in a genre she amusingly refers to as ’endurance art’) of her epic 20-hour performance novel, The Heather Woodbury Report, which she boiled down to a 10-hour version, What Ever, performed locally two years ago.

In the evening’s first half (The Lost Christmas Episode), performing on a mostly empty set with, mercifully, no sound effects (save those generated by the actor) and armed with a hand-held microphone, Woodbury inhabits several distinct stage areas in order to portray stories with dozens of characters, some of whom will eventually collide. On a freezing Wisconsin highway, a female teenager driving a stolen truck picks up a hitchhiker, a guy perhaps a year or two older than herself, a streetwise philosopher who’s heading to NYC en route from the Pacific Northwest. Both seem to be kindly, lost-soul misfits, trying to cover their innocence with masks of knowing cool; Woodbury nails their authenticity and vulnerability both in her writing and in her extraordinarily nuanced tics of voice and gesture. When the hitchhiker defends techno-pop and the driver consequently refers to him as ’weird,’ he gently counsels her in a Tennessee Williams-like cadence: "’Weird’ is sloping on the antiquated side of the vernacular." He proposes ’fiended’ or ’rare’ instead.

Which suggests the reasons for the piece’s underlying charm: its beguiling mix of the hip with the sweet. Woodbury is so good, and her bursts of insight so subtle, she may well emerge as a latter-day Lily Tomlin, or even Ruth Draper. Indeed, the character of Violet, an octogenarian communist who hobbles about accompanied by a poodle named Balzac, shares the New England haughtiness that characterizes so many of Draper’s eccentrics. Violet is the focus of the second half (Violet With Shades of Blue), as she throws a birthday party for Balzac while indulging in a drinking binge after her friends have all bailed from their commitment to attend the festivities.

Violet was a kind of Greek chorus in The Heather Woodbury Report, and director Dudley Saunders remarks in the program how Violet was so popular and underused there that Woodbury brought her back in this more focused presentation. The result is a letdown with a revelation: Overexposure to Violet forces us to acknowledge that all Woodbury’s characters are not really characters at all, but slivers of language and gesture that create the illusion of character. The potency of Woodbury’s performance novels lies – contrary to appearance – not in her characterizations, but in the way the shards of story combine into an American collage, with its juxtapositions and encounters among stoned teenagers, pimps and hookers, and stolid Midwestern families. Which, unfortunately for Violet, means that her hour of stage time feels excessive and self-consciously poignant, almost dripping in honey. Violet in a crowd and upstaged appears a richer creation than the solitary Violet talking on the phone or to her pooch, with all the time in the world.

– Steven Leigh Morris

Los Angeles Times

"It’s important that we remember who we really are," cautions Violet, an aging patrician New Yorker, ruminating on her poodle’s birthday party (and by extension, the passage of time itself). "No one else will."

Performance artist Heather Woodbury aimed to stave off that slide into oblivion, chronicling the adventures of Violet and more than 100 other characters in What Ever, her sweeping, eight-act solo epic. Parlaying an ace reporter’s eye for telling detail and a mimic’s ear for nuances of dialect, Woodbury’s ability to weave a rich tapestry of Americana is impressively evident in a pair of one-acts at the Evidence Room. Featuring unused segments originally developed for What Ever, these Dudley Saunders-directed "outtakes" reflect divergent strategies for showcasing Woodbury’s creations, with differing effectiveness.

The Lost Christmas Episode, which opens the evening, mirrors the construction of What Ever as a whole -- interlocking scenes tracing the sometimes parallel, sometimes interconnecting paths of Woodbury’s characters during the Yuletide season. In addition to Violet, we drop in on Clove, a ’shroom-gobbling high school girl, a hitchhiking raver dude in a chance meeting with the pregnant Midwestern teen who picks him up, an ideologically splintered Virginia family desperately maintaining an amicable veneer through Christmas dinner, and a pack of shivering New York City prostitutes huddling around meager sparks of goodwill. Reminiscent of Robert Altman’s Nashville, these quick cuts evoke the sprawl of everyday life and keep the characters fresh.

Violet With Shades of Blue focuses on the veteran spinster as she dotes on her dog and waits for invited guests who will never arrive. Among Woodbury’s stable, Violet is the most developed and shaded, and the actor’s handling of upper-class WASP inflections is masterful. Nevertheless, there’s no forward momentum in Violet’s meandering stories, and as a result, an uninterrupted hour in her company wears thin. The episodic structure of the first act may lack the traditional dramatic hierarchy of a central protagonist and peripheral characters, but it’s better suited to Woodbury’s overall vision.

– Philip Brandes

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