Theater Review: JULIA SWEENEY: OLDER AND WIDER (Geffen Playhouse)

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by John Topping on February 6, 2019

in Theater-Los Angeles


I have never seen Julia Sweeney on film or television. Okay, almost never: there’s Pulp Fiction and Stuart Little. Yet while Sweeney is notable for having been in those films, I can’t quite remember who she played. She’s been working steadily in projects but I guess I haven’t had the desire to see them. And, yeah, that includes her stint on Saturday Night Live, where she was most famous for playing the androgynous Pat, of which the running joke was that no one knew if Pat was male or female.

However, I was fortunate enough to see the debut of the character Pat when she performed it in an evening of work by the Groundlings several decades ago. That made me want to see her first solo show God Said, Ha!, which covered the serious subjects of cancer and death in an otherwise mostly hilarious evening. In a similar trajectory to her Pat character, that went on to become a hit in New York, but this time in the guise of a Broadway show instead of a national television show.

So you may very well know her as a television personality, but to me she’s strictly a theater person; specifically a monologist. Not quite in the same league, perhaps, as Mike Daisey…but on the other hand, we’re talking the proverbial apples and oranges, so why quibble?

After a 10-year (theater) hiatus she is back with Older and Wider. The only unfortunate thing about the show is the title because I was expecting her to have really packed on the pounds, so it was almost disappointing to see her walk on stage with her extra dimensions being about as minimal as possible; fortunately, that pun isn’t commensurate with the quality of rest of the show, which is a delight.

Her 90-minute one-woman monologue — on a bare stage with a hand-held mic — is honest, engaging, and funny. The subject matter this time around — a marriage that brought her to Chicago, the tribulations of raising her adopted Chinese daughter, and a showdown with her daughter’s boyfriend over politics  — may be light in comparison to cancer and death, or religion and the very existence of God — although she definitely touches on her atheism here — but one must share one’s life as it happens (and it would be churlish, to say the least, to wish her more tragedy simply to deepen the emotional resonance for the sake of our entertainment).

Her spontaneous moments were my favorites: expressing delight that a joke actually worked (I saw opening night at the Geffen Playhouse) and apologizing as an afterthought during her curtain call that her voice wasn’t in tip-top condition. Through it all, she draws you in, hooks you, and takes you on her journey in such a warm and likable way that it feels as if you were already her friend long before you stepped into the theater. She may show up with a body that’s only a tad wider, but we leave with a theatrical experience significantly richer.

photos by Timothy M. Schmidt

Julia Sweeney: Older and Wider
Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater at the Geffen Playhouse
10866 Le Conte Avenue in Westwood
Tues-Fri at 8; Sat at 3 & 8; Sun at 2 & 7
ends on February 17, 2019
for tickets, call 310.208.5454 or visit Geffen Playhouse

{ 1 comment }

Tony J February 7, 2019 at 8:23 am

Wow! This sounds so good that I have already hit the link and bought a ticket to see the February 15 performance!

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