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LA Theater Review

Mad Women

Mad Women
Photo Source: Ed Krieger
Great moments on the stage tend to sear themselves in our memory banks: visions of Nureyev in midleap or Zoe Caldwell exposing her breasts for Cleopatra's death scene. Leave it to notorious NEA Four survivor John Fleck to add another indelible image: standing alone onstage as Judy Garland's then-preteen son Joey Luft donning his mother's wig and sequined jacket after her last drunken L.A. appearance at the Coconut Grove in 1967, belting a vibrato-rich opera selection in falsetto to the empty auditorium with his "Uncle Vincente" Minnelli accompanying him on the piano. Fleck proves he can fly through the air higher than Rudy and handle his asp even more effectively than Zoe.

One wonders if director Ric Montejano had to use a cattle prod to wrangle his charge, Fleck delivering a delightfully irreverent one-person show. With his sweat-drenched, pop-eyed delivery and an ever-present dry martini as fortification, Fleck channels Garland, but not in the Jim Bailey way. Instead Fleck reaches deep into the star's loneliness and descent into drug- and booze-fueled neurosis, then presents a parallel image of his own mother, caught on his video camera at home in Ohio as she nodded off in an Alzheimer's haze. As the taped Josephine Fleck loses herself watching her beloved idol Judy on TV in "Meet Me in St. Louis," her son calls out plaintively to the image projected behind him, "Hey, just meet me in Cleveland, will you, Ma?"

This is heady stuff, personal but performed with manic energy and nonstop brash assaults to our senses, a state even he admits is "kinda like a tornado, isn't it? Does that man ever breathe?" It's a good reminder as one sits watching Fleck open his chest and bare his heart without sacrificing any chance for a wild screech, a Tallulah laugh, or a silly move of his beanpole body. He courageously offers an evening full of leaps and laughs and tears and a few good bites on the teat at his own expense.

Presented by Katselas Theatre Company at the Skylight Theatre-Skylab, 1816 N. Vermont Ave., L.A. May 6–June 26. Variable schedule. (702) 582-8587. www.katselastheatre.com.

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