‘Loveland’ at Arena Stage

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THREE AND A HALF STARS
Loveland, Ann Randolph‘s self-written work playing at Arena stage follows character Frannie Potts’ journey from California to her home town of Loveland, Ohio. This one-woman show is set on plane with Frannie in the window seat contemplating both the quirks of flying, and of herself as she travels home for her mother’s funeral. We see Frannie rock out in the aisles, chat with the surrounded passengers, and write love notes to the captain. Randolph has dubbed this her ‘Good Grief Tour’ as the play explores Frannie’s emotional journey through humor, as well as a dialogue with the audience.

Ann Randolph in Loveland. Photo by Teresa Wood.
Ann Randolph in ‘Loveland.’ Photo by Teresa Wood.

Loveland‘s technical needs are sparse and Randolph relies not a bit on set or costumes, with only a slight nod to music and lighting (by Andres Holder). Her plane consists of a single chair. The story is told completely through Randolph’s dynamic presentation, where she portrays an uptight flight attendance, a disrespectful nursing home staffer, and most importantly lead character Frannie Potts. Director Joshua Townshend-Zellner gives us clean and clear transitions and Randolph’s energy and arch are well-timed.

Randolph’s writing and strangely overwrought acting create a piece that is both poignant, but limited. The character of Frannie herself was confusing, toting the line of realism, sometimes feeling clownish, yet not going far enough for me to be clear. At times it felt unintentionally over-the-top without justification. In one scene she puts on her headphones and booty dances to music in the aisles, surprised when the flight attendant asks her to sit down, but then returns demurely to her seat. Had Randolph gone further with the scene wielding the character into full on rock fantasy, I could have bought the suspension of disbelief. Reversely if the scene had been played more subtlety, if the character had seemed aware or embarrassed, the bit might have felt charming, but instead it was played as a bit of realism that was just too silly to be realistic.

But it’s hard to make death funny, and Randolph is successful in exploring the strange and awkward feelings that unexpectedly come from grieving, such as the need to sing or have airplane sex.

Ann Randolph in Loveland. Photo by Teresa Wood.
Ann Randolph in ‘Loveland.’ Photo by Teresa Wood.

Most important is the workshop that follows the show. Randolph opens the room for a 25-minute writing exercise where the audience has a chance to share about their own grief. A number of people were eager to join the discussion. I believe Loveland will be embraced by the boomer crowd. Certainly it’s nice to see both artists and theatre companies creating dialogue with their audiences.

Running Time: 75 minutes, with no intermission, followed by a 25 minute workshop following the performance.

Loveland plays through April 13, 2014 at Arena Stage-1101 6th Street, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 554-9066, or purchase them online.

In the videos below Ann discusses why she wrote Loveland.