Storytellers know that motives and intentions ultimately matter a whole lot less than actions do. The pursuit of a story, not altruistic zeal, was what sent writer/comic/actor/fallen Daily Show correspondent Lauren Weedman to the Los Angeles County Jail a few years back, where she met with incarcerated women once a week.
Bust is the show she got out of it. First performed in 2006, the piece commingles three story threads: Weedman’s volunteer experience; the casual indignities she endures as a working actress in Hollywood; and the bruising ordeal of being wooed and then callously rewritten by Glamour magazine. (When Weedman was in college she claimed to have been raped. It was an attention-pleading lie, and when she wrote her apologia years later she got lit up on the magazine’s message boards.) Slotted in at Studio Theatre’s Stage 4—a space that with its brick walls and concrete floor can be readily made to evoke a prison—Bust stops short of implying that actresses verbally abused by male casting directors as they gyrate through soda-commercial auditions are as disenfranchised as poor convicts whose public defenders have never met or spoken with them, but the link is there. Weedman is too smart to hit us over the head with it.
She’s also a good judge of how to use her various comedic tools. She can scrunch her face and bulge her eyes in a way that make her look like a Mort Drucker cartoon from MAD magazine. It’s an aptitude she’s wise to use sparingly. The internal metronome governing shift to a dozen or so characters is set to a fast clip, but she lets each of them—the seen-it-all senior prison guard who briefs her on security procedures, the hooker who resists Weedman’s attempts to help her get out of the life, the insufferable magazine editor who thinks of Glamour as “a trojan horse for political issues”—operate at their own pitch.
At 100 minutes without an intermission, the piece overstays its welcome. One of Weedman’s characters, a dog-rescuing industry type who fails to respect the social contract of the sauna, could be excised completely and not be missed. That’s a small complaint, however. That Weedman gets us through this while sidestepping the false piety of Oprah culture is a real achievement. Her deed is as good as her word.