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Ann Randolph is the sort of solotheater practitioner who imagines a nursing home where the on-hold music is Mozart’s Requiem—and that’s most of what you need to know about her endearingly gawky comedy Loveland, about a woman taking a cross-country flight to deal with some unfinished family business.
A woman, did I say? Make that a Grade A kook: Frannie Potts is the sort of seatmate no traveler wants, excitable and awkward and possessed of odd enthusiasms that she’s perfectly eager to share. Her preferred means of artistic expression, for instance, is “facial gesturing to sound,” which is exactly what it sounds like: To the melodious strains of a car alarm, Frannie contorts her features in rhythm, looking rather like she’s having a seizure.
Let her glimpse a snow-capped mountain from her window seat, and she’ll rhapsodize about the glories of the American landscape. Let her drift off in that seat, and she’ll alarm the businessman next to her with a noisily explicit dream involving the captain and his, uh, cockpit. Dancing spastically in the airliner aisle? Yup, that too.
In the tight, funny, 75-minute show in Arena Stage’s intimate Kogod Cradle, Randolph plays not just Frannie, but also her mother, a gravelly voiced, Chablis-swilling grump in residence at the Crane Lake Country Manor—one of those retirement facilities so grandly named you know the place must be especially dire. It’s mom’s decline that’s prompted Frannie’s trip, and as the flight goes on and our oddball heroine flashes back on memories both fond and fraught, Loveland becomes a kind of meditation on the mother-daughter bond, and on what happens when we confront the reality that death will one day sever it. Grief will inevitably color the pictures Frannie paints so vividly, and anger too, but in the end there’s enough sweet in her recollections to leaven the sad.