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The Wild Abandon of Leenya Rideout
The Irish Repertory Theatre's production of Wild Abandon, Leenya Rideout's intimate one-woman autobiographical extravaganza – housed in the Rep's second theatre, an intimate 50-seater – is one of a handful of Off Broadway plays that everybody is talking about. Critics are raving, and audiences are returning again and again with friends in tow, as they simply cannot believe that any one person can be that talented and not already household name.
And yes indeed, as the title silently screams, the production is an extremely adventurous, song-studded, high caliber, story-telling ride of wild abandon. It just about begs to be a book, a movie, and a TV series, of course with Leenya Rideout, and her talented artist musician mother Lynn Rideout, who Leenya channels during the play, in the starring roles. Unless Wild Abandon is extended, or moved to another venue, it is scheduled to close on Sunday, October 21, 2018.
From the minute people take their seats and get a gander at Narelle Sissons' stunning stage set, the audience, now visually abuzz, is aware that something out of the ordinary is going to present itself, as covering all three barn-like, wooden-slated walls, as well as scattered around the stage itself - very country hoedown – are a cacophony of guitars, fiddles, violins, a viola, a base, a mandolin, an Irish frame drum (bodhrán), and even a piano. Also signaling to us are some ten strange, Picasso-look-a-like paintings staring us in our face. Some are wall-hung, others leaning against the back and sides of the stage.
If the audience still has any lingering doubts about what is coming down the pike, the theater program informs us that Leenya Rideout alone is here to wow us, the paintings are from the hand of her mother, and that Rideout, in addition to copious amounts of TV, Film, and theatre gigs around the country, has appeared on Broadway in War Horse, Cyrano de Bergerac, Company, and Cabaret. What we are not told but soon find out is that Rideout herself will be playing, to a fare thee well, every single musical instrument on view.
With Irish punk music blaring in the background, Wild Abandon officially begins with Leenya breathlessly running onto the stage from in back of the theatre. Wearing a heavy coat, sweaters, a hat, mittens and a scarf, and carrying a fiddle case and two bottles of beer, she hollers," I'm here! I'm here. I made it! I can't believe it…it is snowing so hard out there." Ostensibly, it is winter out, and we are in a pub somewhere on Long Island expecting to hear the Druid's Revenge band play. As fate would have it, Leenya, the band's fiddle player and backup singer, is the only one to show up. "The rest of the band got a little sidetracked, snowbound actually" she states, "But don't worry…I'm gonna' play for you guys tonight." And sing and play she does, often with tears in her eyes, for 90 terrifically energizing non-stop minutes in which we are treated to a range of country, rock, folk, and Celtic-style-sounding songs that Rideout has mastered with both voice and instrument.
The first song out of some dozen or so, many of which Leenya has written herself, is Don't Let Her Fool You. Sung during the play's prologue – 12 scenes and an epilogue are to follow – we are introduced to her loving but extremely complicated relationship with her mother Lynn Rideout.
Like her daughter, Lynn too is multitalented. She sings, acts, plays the piano, paints, and when not questioning, giving advice, or criticizing Leenya, as the song Don't Let Her Fool You tells us, she is the Ultimate Church Lady. She will turn the other cheek. Give you the shirt from off her back, and volunteer to help her Pastor at the drop of a hat. And her motto is live and let live.
Still, however loving Lynn is towards her daughter, and she does care deeply, when Leenya tells her about her current dating phase, she is not above remarking, "With all of your gentleman callers' people might call you a whore." Like many a mother, all she wants for her daughter is a happy marriage with children, and no doubt grandchildren that she can dote on. As far as Leenya's career, though she is somewhat supportive, reservations, as to her daughter's gypsy lifestyle, are more likely to pop up.
Church Lady etiquette aside, Leenya's mother, as we are laughingly told, is also given to talking dirty. Sex with her husband and her sexual fantasies are not out of bounds. In one anecdote that Leenya shares with us, her mother is in the kitchen unwrapping a frozen lobster that she is going to cook for dinner. Leaning in and taking a deep breath, she unexpectedly cries out that "the lobster smells like fresh cunt. Both my brother and I gasped, and she said, What? Can't I say things like that around my grown children?" Of course, the audience could not help but break out in gales of laughter.
Other stories from Rideout's personal journey each supported by an accompanying song, touch upon growing up, going to college, her checkered life in the theater, and her various boyfriends, "I have a thing for Irish guys! I mean their self-deprecating wit, their inclination to moodiness and depression, and their vampire complexions." Also, talked about candidly is her three years – her longest held job to date – of being the only girl in Druid's Revenge, which leads to Rideout singing The Girl In The Band, one of her most moving, and self-reflective songs.
Accompanying herself on the Irish frame drum, and then switching to fiddle, Leenya details the hardships she faces as the only girl in the band.
"YOU RUN DOWN THE PLATFORM, TRAIN TICKET IN
IT'S LONG NIGHTS. IT'S DRUNKEN FIGHTS
IT'S UNLOADING CABLES AND SPEAKERS AND STANDS,
YOU KNOW THEY TALK SHITE ABOUT YOU ‘CAUSE THEY
IT'S DODGING THE FANS WHO'VE BEEN DRINKING
THEY COME BACK AND TELL YOU YOU ONLY GET HALF
Towards the end of the show, after several unsuccessful couplings, one guy turns out to be gay; another instigated by her mother "smells," Lenya, thinking of her many failed relationships asks herself. "What the hell am I doing with these boys?" Again, picking up a guitar she sings Lost Boys.
I SPOTTED YOU FROM ALL THE WAY ACROSS A CROWDED
YOU SAID THE MAGIC WORDS "I'M NOT READY TO
For the record, if Wild Abandon is 100% factually accurate – is Druid's Revenge a nom de plume or even a real band – Leenya's boyfriend Derek is the group's bandleader. Though Leenya remembers the first night Derek kissed her backstage, "It was like I'd won a contest over all the other women who fawned over him every night." However Leenya now is asking herself "Was it Derek that I was in love with? Or was it just the music? "
It is a question when answered that just might lead Leenya to writing her next play, finding a new boyfriend, and getting on with her life. As some of her songs seem to point out, she is ready for a change. So stay tuned.
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