By EDWARD RUBIN
The Irish Repertory Theatre’s production of Wild Abandon, Lyeena Rideout’s intimate one-woman autobiographical extravaganza – housed in the Rep’s second theatre, a cozy 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 be a 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 starring Lyeena Rideout and her talented artist musician mother, Lynn Rideout, whom Lyeena channels during the play. Unless Wild Abandon is extended, or moved to another venue, it is scheduled to close on Wednesday, 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. Covering all three barn-like, wooden-slated walls, as well as scattered around the stage itself like a veritable country hoedown – is an assemblage of guitars, fiddles, violins, a viola, a base, a mandolin, an Irish frame drum (bodhrán), and even a piano. Also, like silent sentinels are some ten strange, Picasso look-a-like paintings staring us in the face. Some are wall-hung. Others lean 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-styled songs that Rideout has mastered both in voice and with instruments.
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.
Like her daughter, Lynn is also multi-talented. 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. Her motto is “Live and let live.”
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. Though she is somewhat supportive towards Leenya’s career, she frequently expresses reservations to her daughter’s gypsy lifestyle.
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.”
She also talks candidly about the 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 hand,
You’re hoping that they’ll hold the door.
It’s dragging your fiddle and gear on the train
Like a hundred times before…
It’s long nights. It’s drunken fights
In the company of men.
It’s alright. Just hang on tight.
You are the girl in the band.
It’s unloading cables and speakers and stands,
Pretending your back is okay.
You try to talk shop, but you’ll never catch up.
You just hope you rock when you play.
You know they talk shite about you’caus they know
They can never have you in the end.
They call you “hipshake” and “painin the arse.” They call you “the girl in the band.”
It’s dodging the fans who’ve been drinking all night
To pack up the system and gear.
Pretending that you’re not just waiting around
For the cash you were promised last year.
They come back and tell you you only get half
The crowds weren’t as big as we planned.
You protest and grumble, but what can you do?
You’re only the girl in the band.
Towards the end of the show, after several unsuccessful couplings – one guy turns out to be gay and another instigated by her mother “smells.” Lenya considers 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
Room and my common sens I knew I’d soon misplace.
Within seconds I could sense your ambiguity
Cause it’s written on your introspective face.
I’ve always been a sucker for a guy with only
Dreams a combination pout and boyish grin.
You said the magic words “I’m not ready to commit”
And the chemistry was starting to kick in.
Lost boys, I will find you and I’ll fight with all my might
Just to save you from yourselves
But the cost, boys, I was blind to
And it’s taken me so long to understand
Lost boys only love their Neverland
For the record, if Wild Abandon is 100% factually accurate – Druid’s Revenge is a nom de plume for a real band and Leenya’s boyfriend Derek is the group’s bandleader. 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, now Leenya 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.
Directed by dramaturg Lisa Rothe,Wild Abandon, opened on September 24, 2018, following a week of previews at the Irish Repertory Theatre, 132 West 22nd Street, in New York City. It is slated to close on October 21. The show runs one hour and 30 minutes. Tickets are available by phone at 212- 727-2737 or click here.
Synthesizer, string and drum patches: Brendan Aanes
Technical: Scenic/Costume Design: Narelle Sissons, Lighting Designer: Mike Baldassari, Sound Design & Additional Arrangements, Original Artworks: Lynn Rideout