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Theater review: 'Mad Women' at the Skylight's Skylab

July 13, 2011 | 11:13 am

John_Fleck_Mad_Women_Photo_by_Ed_Krieger John Fleck is perhaps best known as one of the NEA Four, envelope-pushing performance artists whose denial of funding by the then-NEA chairman was the basis for a landmark Supreme Court case in the early '90s.

As he proves in "Mad Women," at the Skylight Theatre's Skylab, Fleck is no mere footnote in theatrical history. Nor have the decades mellowed his signature style, which can best be described as cyclonic. Indeed, Fleck invests his new solo show with the kind of manic energy and off-the-wall humor for which he has become justly renowned.

The show centers around a fascinating archival tidbit -– a recently discovered audio recording of Judy Garland's last Los Angeles concert at the Coconut Grove scant months before her death.  Initially, Fleck uses that bootleg tape for a whirlwind camp-fest, prancing about the stage while lip-syncing to Judy's songs and drug-fueled tirades. 

Yet Fleck, under the direction of Ric Montejano, is not out for the easy laughs of a drag show retread.  Video footage of his Alzheimer’s-suffering mother, Josephine, shortly before her death, along with family home movies and anecdotes from Fleck’s own Midwestern childhood, give “Women” an unexpectedly elegiac inflection that is heart-wrenching.

The tone of the show is stream-of-consciousness and impromptu, with Fleck as our free-wheeling host.  Fleck does tend to go on a bit, especially when recounting his travails as Gecko on the underrated television series “Carnivale,” a role for which he endured hours of torturous prosthetic makeup.  On the whole, though, “Women” is a vastly entertaining yarn from a born storyteller whose outsized personality threatens to blow the walls off this small theater space.

-- F. Kathleen Foley

“Mad Women,” Skylight Theatre’s Skylab, 1816 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles.  8 p.m. Fridays; 7 p.m. Sundays.  Ends July 31.  $20.  (702) 582-8587.  www.katselastheatre.com.  Running time:  1 hour, 10 minutes.

Photo: John Fleck.  Credit: Ed Krieger.

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