LA Times, Theater Review, Charles McNulty, January 25, 2008


Heather Woodbury has that gift common to all mesmerizing performance artists -- an ability to capture an audience's imagination as much with her story as her singularly flamboyant way of telling it. In her latest piece, "The Last Days of Desmond Nani Reese: A Stripper's History of the World," which runs Saturdays at Bang Studio Theatre, she channels the voices of two women who supposedly speak the same language but have great difficulty understanding each other.

One's a jargon-spewing feminist from Harvard who has trouble saying anything straight; the other is a 108-year-old former stripper living in the hills of Echo Park with her 27 cats and a whirlwind of memories she spits out like a raunchier version of Granny from "The Beverly Hillbillies." All Woodbury needs to conjure both is a pair of red pumps, fishnet stockings and a suggestive shift in her supple spine.

It's now 2014. Amber, professionally stalled and heartbroken, has come by solar bus across the ecologically ravaged Unites States to interview Nani for the final chapter of her mountainous dissertation, "The History of the World, as Told by Loose Women." Hacking her way through the overgrown brush outside her subject's ramshackle door, Amber is greeted not by a friendly old lady but a ghostly recluse toting a BB gun.

As the perpetual student coaxes the ancient burlesque showgirl into sharing the tale of her fierce life (including the episode in which she posed for Salvador Dali at the 1939 World's Fair), a curious thing occurs -- the scholar receives an education from the dropout in what it means to survive and occasionally thrive as a woman unbowed by the blows of the male-mangled world.

The production, directed by Abigail Deser, is not only vibrantly performed but also delicately written. Like Karen Finley and Dael Orlandersmith, Woodbury has a poet's way with words and a comic's naughty wit. Her piece may wrap up with too much transformative closure and there's room to edit the excess of a few scenes, but the show demonstrates the power of the solo artist in tantalizing flight.

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