Sunday, October 27, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Theater Preview

Weedman breaks out in 'Rash' at Empty Space

Seattle Times theater critic

Theater preview

"Rash" previews tonight through Tuesday, opens Wednesday and runs Tuesday-Sunday through Nov. 24 at Empty Space Theatre, 3509 Fremont Ave. N., Seattle. $10-$35. 206-547-7500.

Lauren Weedman has a push-pull relationship with fame.

On the one hand, the formerly Seattle-based writer-performer moved to New York in 2000 because she was ambitious enough to try to score in show biz there.

And the day she was hired as a regular correspondent on the Comedy Central cable program, "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart," she confesses to "skipping down the street, thinking I'd finally hit it big."

On the other hand, Weedman, 33, is a disarming, down-home Indiana native who wears her insecurities on her sleeve and has an inherent distrust of egotistical excess — a distrust she's parlayed into a new solo play, "Rash," opening Wednesday at Empty Space Theatre.

Returning to Seattle to introduce "Rash" was a natural impulse for Weedman — because, she explained recently at a Queen Anne coffee spot, "This is, like, home."

It was Empty Space, after all, that gave Weedman a break by smartly employing her rubber-faced comic dexterity in such zany bonbons as the punk holiday musical "The Salvation of Iggy Scrooge" and the spoofy "Wuthering! Heights! The! Musical!"

Seattle audiences also welcomed Weedman's earlier solo shows, including "The Homecoming," "If Ornaments Had Lips" and "Amsterdam."

Fortified by her good run here, Weedman ventured onto New York with her husband, writer Michael Neff, "and spent a year waiting tables, doing 'The Homecoming' in small spaces, and getting pretty stressed-out."

But then "The Homecoming" (a show spun around Weedman's background as an adopted child) got optioned by an Off-Broadway producer and was well-reviewed by The New York Times. That led to a full-time gig on "The Daily Show."

Now she's free-lancing for the program. "I feel a lot calmer. I realize the stakes professionally aren't always life-and-death matters. And, hey — Michael and I still live in a teeny-tiny, sixth floor, Greenwich Village walk-up, with a bathroom in the closet!"

Though she heads to Los Angeles soon, for a round of film and TV auditions, Weedman is stoking her theatrical career with "Rash."

Commissioned by Empty Space, this one-actor, multicharacter (and "very musical") piece poses the question: "How desperate and damaged does someone have to be to keep pushing and pushing to be famous?"

During rehearsals in New York and Seattle, Weedman worked with up-and-coming Manhattan director Trip Cullman and songwriter David Russell to address that gnawing question.

"The show's about a woman whose obsession with death both paralyzes her and, paradoxically, motivates her to succeed and get famous beyond her wildest expectations," said Cullman, a boyish Yale grad who's been observing the celebrity whirl up close. (He just served as director Mike Nichols' assistant on a celebrity-studded staging of "The Seagull," and on the starry new film of "Angels in America.")

"The woman is someone who, like a vampire, feeds on her own experience, relationships and neuroses to fuel her creativity," continued Cullman. "Which begs the question — what's the cost of that to her psychological health?"

Weedman nodded vigorously. When asked if "Rash" is a thinly veiled portrait of herself, she responded, "Well, it's about various parts of me. But I never wanted to just do a first-person, this-is-me storytelling thing. The base comes from myself, but it's not strictly me."

New York producers have their eye on "Rash," which Weedman admits will "feel a little fancier than the previous things I've done. I'm thrilled to work with Trip, and with David Russell, and we have a four-person band in the show. It's getting sort of big, more Liza Minelli."

Yet despite her flamboyant streak onstage, it's hard to imagine anyone less show-bizzy offstage than pale, pony-tailed Weedman. And if her well-honed insecurities have been tamed a bit, thanks to her New York success, they're still operational.

"One thing that scares me about this show is how much I like it," she volunteered sheepishly. "I'm usually full of angst during rehearsals, but with this one I've been laughing and laughing. That kind of freaks me out."

Misha Berson:


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