Performer/playwright Ann Randolph deals with grief on hilarious plane ride in acclaimed one-woman show
Ann Randolph lived in a mental hospital for four years of her life before taking a job earning $8 an hour working the graveyard shift at a homeless shelter for mentally ill women. She’s also shared the comedy stage with the likes of Saturday Night Live vets Will Ferrell and Cheri Oteri (as part of L.A. improv/sketch-comedy outfit The Groundlings) and comedian Drew Hastings (now the mayor of Hillsboro, Ohio).
And the playwright/performer’s autobiographical one-woman show Squeeze Box—which was produced by comedy legend Mel Brooks and his wife, the late actress Anne Bancroft—has been produced all over the United States and even headlined Scotland’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe. It also won an LA Stage Alliance Ovation Award and was named Best Solo Show by LA Weekly.
Similarly, Randolph’s latest solo show, Loveland—on which Brooks (who calls her “a genius”) and Bancroft also worked with her—was hailed by both LA Weekly and SF Weekly as Best Solo Show.
And this week, Randolph is bringing Loveland to the Chico Women’s Club (on Friday, Feb. 14).
So, how did this critically acclaimed show end up booked at this relatively small Chico hall? Randolph was asked that question in a recent phone interview from Washington, D.C., where she was promoting her upcoming show at the Arena Stage (which runs March 20 through April 13).
Randolph, who also teaches grief-centered writing workshops, explained: “One of my students at [The] Esalen [Institute in Big Sur] said, ‘I’d like to bring you to Chico. What would it take?’” (That student was Chicoan Christine Satava.)
“I go wherever I’m invited,” Randolph offered. “I do not say no to an invitation. This is what I like to do.”
Loveland—the name of the show comes from the name of Randolph’s hometown of Loveland, Ohio—is a 90-minute-long “totally demented, unforgettable, over-the-top comedy that forces people to think,” as The Huffington Post described it. In it, Randolph plays Frannie Potts, a dorky, filterless performance artist who is reeling from the death of her mother and acts out outrageously and hilariously on the flight home to Loveland, Ohio; she also plays a number of other characters in the one-woman show, including her own mother.
While Loveland is semiautobiographical, Randolph’s mother is not deceased. Her impetus to write the performance piece came while she was dealing with both the impending death of her father and a stroke that her 70-something mother had (“She started drinking for the first time in her life,” Randolph said of her mom’s coping strategy). Randolph, as a result, began suffering what she termed “anticipatory grief,” which was “so huge I started writing about it even before [my parents] were dead.”
Randolph’s father passed away before she finished writing the show. The character of her mother “is a composite of both of my parents,” she said. Loveland first opened in San Francisco in 2009, two weeks after her father died.
In performing Loveland, Randolph said she is expressing both anticipatory grief as well as real grief over the loss of her father and the loss of her mother as she used to be: These days, Randolph’s mom is in a nursing home, “still drinking, but doing better. …
“Humor is my coping mechanism,” she said.
Randolph agreed that Frannie Potts could be characterized as “‘pure grieving id.’ She has no impulse control whatsoever; she’s rubbing up against poles and banisters—anything that could help her get rid of the pain.”
After each show, Randolph conducts a free workshop for interested audience members “on writing and looking at their grief.” She will also hold a separate two-day “Write Your Life” workshop during her Chico visit (see column note).
“It’s a ride. It’s a real ride,” said Randolph of Loveland. “You’ll laugh your ass off and then you’re gonna be weeping. …
“I was around mentally ill people for a majority of my life,” she said. “There’s nothing hiding at that point [in their lives]. When people hit rock bottom, there’s no more mask.
“Let’s remove the mask; let’s see our vulnerability. Let’s express our grief. Nothing’s going to happen—it’s going to be a tremendous relief to look at it, just say it.”