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Review: 'Voice Lessons' at Zephyr Theatre

April 16, 2009 |  3:00 pm

Voice-Lessons-photo Those who almost lost bladder control watching “Waiting for Guffman” will love “Voice Lessons,” Justin (“Pot Mom”) Tanner’s satirical portrait of an indefatigable community theater actress. This one-act comedy at the Zephyr Theatre features a performance by Laurie Metcalf that must be seen to be believed. I sat through it and am still not sure what passed before me. The ghost of Andy Kaufman? Nails on a chalkboard? Self-loathing turned utterly inside out into something oddly transcendent?

The recent death of her overbearing father provides fortysomething Ginny (Metcalf) with the means of funding a lifelong dream to be a singer. She promptly descends on Nate (French Stewart), a vocal coach, with the singular fervor of the deeply untalented. Her rendition of Seal’s “Kiss From a Rose” lands somewhere between a donkey bray and a difficult bowel movement.

Tanner and Bart DeLorenzo, both credited as directors, free Metcalf to find a performance that is excruciating, hilarious and rather moving. Ginny’s extreme moods careen into one another like some mile-long emotional pileup, but the rubbernecking is excellent. Stewart, playing the straight man here, cruises through his sardonic coaching role with ease. He is less convincing as the guy who would hook up with a frump (an appropriately shrill Maile Flanagan) for rent money, but Tanner’s sense of plotting has always taken a back seat to his line-by-line instinct for laughs.

No one appears to be credited for the costumes, but these wonderfully awful ensembles would send Tim Gunn sobbing into the night. It’s hard to decide which is more of a don't: The “Flashdance” cut-off green sweat shirt and mesh leotard worn with sling-backs, or the bright yellow jumpsuit tapered at the legs, accessorized with scarf and beret? And nothing sums up pretension down on its luck than Nate wearing a cardigan over just his tighty whities.

Just when things get really interesting, the play ends. It’s a bit of a cheat, given the rampant possibilities of a second-act romance between two self-haters who yearn to be even slightly cherished. But both Metcalf and Stewart, veterans of Tanner’s bumpy comedies, know how to work every moment of this 60-minute show. They are funny. Very funny.  And “Voice Lessons” features the best onstage slap you will ever see. Some characters should be struck regularly, like gongs. Metcalf has bravely volunteered for the job.

--Charlotte Stoudt

“Voice Lessons,” Zephyr Theatre, 7456 Melrose Ave., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends May 17. $25 (323) 960-7711. Running time: 1 hour.

Photo: French Stewart, Laurie Metcalf and Maile Flanagan in "Voice Lessons." Credit: Ed Krieger.

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