When actress and comedian Lauren Weedman decided to become a volunteer in the Los Angeles County prison system, it was because, she explains in her one-woman show Bust, she hoped that helping others would force her to think about something other than "career or weight loss." Weedman portrays a range of characters in Bust, as she describes the consequences of that decision: her unlikely immersion in a labyrinthine, overextended women's prison, and the volunteers and prisoners she met there.
But Weedman's volunteerism is unlikely only because she insists that it's unlikely: She portrays herself as self-absorbed, disorganized, and completely clueless about the realities of the people she's trying to help. On her first day, late for volunteer orientation, she has a long, exposition-filled phone conversation detailing, among other things, the coke she did in a bar bathroom the night before. Later, when she tries to invoke the language of new-age relaxation in order to soothe a prisoner, she almost gives the woman a panic attack.
Bust showcases Weedman's facility with impersonations—she confidently juggles multiple characters, distinguishing between inmates, fellow volunteers, and self-absorbed LA socialites with impressive precision. Technical capability aside, though, the humor is predictable stuff: ain't LA wacky, aren't I a brassy one. (While it didn't resonate with me, the rest of the crowd at the Armory seemed heartily entertained.) Less straightforward is an odd, shoehorned-in subplot revolving around a story Weedman wrote for Glamour magazine—about how, when she was 18, she pretended she'd been raped. The story was poorly received and Weedman took an online pummeling, but the anecdote's inclusion here only confuses what, exactly, Weedman's show wants to communicate. Is she seizing an opportunity to tell her side of the story? Is she sharing her own past foibles in order to illustrate that pretty white ladies make bad decisions, too? Or is it a larger commentary on the show as a whole, on her own impulse—underlying both Bust and the Glamour story—to publicly share her worst qualities and most embarrassing secrets?
Weedman certainly reveals plenty of unflattering details here—not least, her do-gooder naïveté in the face of the prison system's massive, under-funded bureaucracy. But while she's quick to sell herself short for a laugh, the ultimate narrative that emerges—of a woman connecting with her better impulses through volunteerism—is pedestrian, unenlightening stuff.