By Justin Levine
Originally printed in the Beverly Hills Weekly, 2/26/03
“Call Us Crazy: The Anne Heche Monologues” ends its run on a refreshing high note within the struggling Los Angeles theater community.
Last Saturday evening saw the closing of a very remarkable piece of independent theater in the Hollywood community. “Call Us Crazy: The Anne Heche Monologues” started out as a group of “nobodies doing a little show in a bar” according to writer-creator Pamela Ribon. In recent months, the show managed to find its way to the Hudson Theater in Hollywood where word spread about the production and managed to pack in sold out performances in its last remaining weekends. Unlike most plays (and television shows), however, “Call Us Crazy” has been forced to wrap its production just as it was seemingly reaching a critical mass of international buzz and popularity.
For those who don’t keep up with scandal sheets (beyond this column at any rate), “Call Us Crazy: The Anne Heche Monologues” saw fourteen gifted female thespians (that’s THespians– not the other group associated with Heche’s recent past) giving dramatic readings from Anne Heche’s own biography entitled “Call Me Crazy”. The phrase “dramatic reading” is used loosely here as the actresses are able to mine the most unintentionally funny passages of Heche’s bio and, in a feat of pure interpretive brilliance, are able to transform it into a self-skewering piece that lays bare the excesses of celebrities and the dementia that often follows them.
Through the monologues, we followed Heche’s travails– sexual molestation, stigmata on her feet, and a realization that she is in fact the Second Coming of Christ just to name a few. Contrary to expectations, her infamous relationship with Ellen DeGeneres is only dealt with in a brief but memorable pantomime skit. The audience was also treated to original skits and songs based on themes in Heche’s bio as well as a weekly guest star performing portions of the book in a tweaking nod to theater’s “The Vagina Monologues.” (The final performance featured comic voiceover artist and talk show host April Winchell whose talents seemed especially suited for this project.)
The end result was a staggering parody of the culture of celebrity that was almost cruel in regards to its subject matter. I stress the word almost here due to the fact that the performers manage to use Heche’s own words verbatim with the realization that nothing could top the accidental comedy in the star’s own writing. Perhaps this merely makes it all the crueler in a sense. But if so, it is a kind of therapeutic cruelty that is inseparable from barbed comedy which can enlighten both the audience and its subject matter. There is also a well placed moment of genuine pathos towards Heche in the piece made all the more memorable when contrasted with the roasting that came before it.
It is clear that Anne Heche had serious psychological issues to deal with stemming from her childhood. To deal with them, she first sought refuge in the theater, then with Ellen and flirtations with lesbian activism, the renouncing her actions and writing a tell-all book. There is one constant in all of these various modes of therapy, and that is the fact that Heche has chosen to foist each stage within the public eye. It is this unassailable fact that “The Anne Heche Monologues” picks up on and uses as its foil.
One of the most deliciously subversive facets of “The Anne Heche Monologues” was the fact that the theater troupe did not seek permission from Heche, her publisher, or any other industry figures in order to perform this work. Like true artists, they just went ahead and did it. That would take guts to do in any city, but all the more so in the Hollywood community given the subject matter at hand.
At a time when intellectual property rights and the so-called “publicity” rights of celebrities have expanded to the point where they now routinely stifle free speech and creative innovation, “Call Us Crazy: The Anne Heche Monlogues” stood as remarkable thumb in the eye of both the celebrity and legalistic cultures that have managed to germinate in this country.
Admittedly, the fact that this production started in a bar and managed to grow under the publicity radar for a while might have been the reason why it was able to survive as long as it has. All the same, it would make a fascinating case to determine if a “fair use/parody” defense to copyright infringement could be derived when the parodist defendant doesn’t change a single word from the original work, but still manages to demonstrate that work itself is an unintentional self-parody.
If by some miracle “The Anne Heche Monologues” is ever revived with talent of the same caliber as the Hudson Theater cast, this writer’s advice to is to rush out and scoop up tickets as quickly as possible, then help man the barricades to keep the lawyers out.
Justin Levine can be reached at Justin@bhweekly.com.