Theater Review: John Fleck’s MAD WOMEN (L.A. – Los Feliz)

by Harvey Perr on May 14, 2011

in Theater-Los Angeles

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There are few things funnier than watching John Fleck, sweating and crazed, walk perilously close to the edge of a high cliff, teeter towards falling off, and, by the neatest trick of balancing himself at the pivotal moment, catch himself from what seemed like inevitable disaster. There are few things more sobering than the realization that, just below the surface, the same John Fleck can reach down, touch a nerve, and break your heart. We are manic, Fleck seems to be saying, because we can’t seem to control the emotions that are boiling over and just waiting to take over. In his newest and bravest solo performance piece, Mad Women, Fleck seems to have gleaned nuggets from past pieces and put them together in one bold and comprehensive artistic statement that demonstrates, with passion and wit, the dual themes that have always obsessed Fleck: a gay man’s infatuation with his culture’s icons and the story of his own life and, particularly, of his alcoholic father and of his mother, afflicted in her last years with Alzheimer’s disease, who put up with his father’s abusive nature.

Mad Women, written and performed by John Fleck, directed by Ric Montejano, at the Skylight Theatre-SkylabFleck walks through a door with a star on it (the star fell off during the performance I attended and, though it was not intended to do so, it proved a remarkably apt metaphor) and comes out as Judy Garland. This is neither drag impersonation nor homage, but, in capturing the quivering emotion of the lips and the familiar hand and arm gestures which seemed always to hold in her most powerful feelings, Fleck’s Garland becomes the center of what might be called a farce of hysteria. Fleck has somehow imagined, through a brilliantly conceived collage of tapes of Garland performing at the end of her career when the drugs and alcohol were part of the act and not something she was trying to hide, a Garland of enormous rage and frustration. And then comes the moment when Fleck’s Garland morphs into Fleck’s real mother, one of the evening’s most stunning and memorable images. As Fleck cleans up the mess he had made on stage being Garland, he talks to the video of his late mother, as if she were alive and the conversation was ongoing. Of course, it is, indeed, ongoing.

Mad Women, written and performed by John Fleck, directed by Ric Montejano, at the Skylight Theatre-SkylabRic Montejano, the director, has woven these moments together with finesse and panache and a great deal of heart. He makes sure the laughter comes steadily and propulsively, but he never forgets the darker truths or the human warmth of Fleck’s insights.

It is the very nature of art that its creators are often obsessive, attempting over and over again, in a desire to get it right, ways in which those themes may find clarity and closure. In Mad Women, John Fleck has come closer than ever before to seeing some of those obsessions wholly realized in theatrical terms. It may be a climax; it may be just the next step. Either way, Fleck is a phenomenon. He wears the masks of tragedy and comedy comfortably. And yet he is always, crazily unhinged and still ready to laugh at himself, that irrepressible genius we all know as John Fleck.

harveyperr @

Mad Women
scheduled to close May 29 at time of publication
for tickets, visit

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Alan Mandell May 15, 2011 at 11:19 am

I agree, even without seeing this latest work,
That he is indeed a bloody genius.
Bravo to you for printing this.



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