WASHINGTON — What do you think about after the plane takes off and you’re all alone with your thoughts? Some travelers reach for their iPads, others for a book. But many look out the window, watching the earth recede as their memories ascend.
It was during those moments in 2009 that comedienne Ann Randolph wrote her one-woman show “Loveland.” Her father had just died and her mother was recovering from a stroke. The Los Angeles-based playwright, who counts Mel Brooks as one of her biggest fans and supporters, spent countless hours flying between California and her native Ohio.
“Looking out the window, all those memories come back,” Randolph says. “You have time, for the first time, to just reflect.”
These flights set the scene for “Loveland,” in which Randolph portrays Frannie Potts. Like Randolph, Potts is a struggling artist living in L.A. and coping with the loss of a parent.
In the play, that parent is Potts’ mother, a composite character of Randolph’s own mom and dad. The elder Potts is acidic, drunk and fiercely supportive of her daughter. She echoes many of the characteristics Randolph loves so much about her real parents.
“I’m very close to my mother,” she says. “And that idea that my mom is my No. 1 fan, that is very real.”
Because Randolph is so close to her mom, she constantly worries about the day she will die. Almost five years after her father’s death, Randolph still chokes back tears when she remembers him. Performing the play has been a kind of ongoing therapy to cope with that loss and face the eventual demise of her mother, she says.
“You’re reliving the pain … but in that ending moment [of the play], you feel it’s all OK,” Randolph says.
“Writing it was extremely cathartic. I cry now, but who knows what I would do without this release. I would be even more of a basket case!”
Despite the somber theme, “Loveland” is riotously hilarious. Potts dances in the aisles of the plane like a madcap tap dancer, has orgasms in Whole Foods and writes sexual letters to the pilot. She performs all this without a wink of self-consciousness, something Randolph says she shares with her onstage alter ego.
In real life, Randolph says she has sexual fantasies while grocery shopping and writes letters to pilots, though they tend to be tamer than Potts’ cockpit correspondences.
“I’m not a social misfit like Annie is, but I have those thoughts,” she jokes.
Audience members instantly connected with Potts when the play first debuted, Randolph says, and wanted to share their own stories of grief and loss. Eventually, the playwright decided to host workshops after her performances in which she invites the audience to write down their memories of loved ones and even share onstage.
At a workshop Friday night, audience members remembered their sisters, mothers and even unborn children. Randolph is continuously amazed by how candid strangers can be when they let go of their inhibition.
“People just want to share,” she says. “Even just hearing people share those deep, deep stories – oh my gosh. There is such a humanity in that we all suffer, that we all have loss.”
“Loveland” runs through April 13 at Arena Stage in Southwest D.C. Arena Stage’s website has more information.