Blue Rider Theatre

An application I once filled out asked me to write an intellectual autobiography. I laughed at the request, but quickly discovered that I actually did have an intellectual autobiography. We all develop a way of looking at the world, and this takes place imperceptibly; just as the body grows, ideas and experiences accumulate within us. One day we find ourselves following a distinct course through life, and we can barely remember how we got there.

Donna Blue Lachman is trying to figure out the meaning of her own meanderings in The Uncensored Stories, a frank, funny monologue about the last 25 years of her very unusual life. Lachman is the founder of the Blue Rider Theatre, where in recent years she has staged several introspective, deeply personal plays. The Demon Show, for example, was Lachman’s attempt to deal with her own “personal demons.” Frida: The Last Portrait allowed Lachman to explore the life of Frida Kahlo: an artist married to Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, she displayed the quirky creativity and ferocious independence Lachman herself embodies. Passing On was an eccentric, impressionistic look at the effect of a young woman’s death on her family and friends.

In After Mountains, More Mountains, Lachman dealt overtly for the first time with her own experience, without resorting to fictional disguise. She told about living in Haiti, where she dabbled in voodoo, tried to become a “mambo,” and got booted out of the country on three hours’ notice. Despite her forthright story telling, however, Lachman insists she censored herself somewhat in that show, so now she’s giving us The Uncensored Stories.

The stories are more than mere autobiography, however–they’re partly stand-up comedy. “This is my beaver,” she announces after walking onto the stage and facing the audience in her full-length fur coat. The double entendre gets a big laugh, of course, and establishes the humorous tone that Lachman maintains throughout.

Unabashed self-revelation also has its place in the show. Lachman freely describes her weekly LSD trips in college, her life at a nude commune in California, her heavy use of cocaine and speed–which ended only after she sat with a gasping, sweating, desperately stoned John Belushi in a friend’s apartment.

With her eye for detail, Lachman is a masterful storyteller who conjures vivid scenes. She describes participating in a workshop conducted by the popular Zen philosopher Alan Watts, who appeared in Japanese robes and seemed to embody the serenity of a Zen master. But later she attended a cocktail party at which Watts was a guest and observed him dressed in a suit and tie, smoking cigarettes, swilling martinis, and pinching women’s behinds. At an antiwar rally in Washington, she danced naked on the White House lawn and joined a guerrilla-theater group–women who held their eyelids back with their hands and walked through the Senate for an hour wailing hysterically to symbolize Vietnamese victims of American bombing. She recounts how, when she arrived at the nude commune, the former Japanese stockbroker who had become the resident guru immediately grabbed her breast as he smiled and chatted with her.

The stories are amusing in themselves, but what gives them drama is Lachman’s attempt to figure out their significance in her life. Like Spalding Gray, whose intensely personal monologues amount to a form of psychotherapy, Lachman analyzes the various ways she has attempted to open her “brain circuits” and find a way to fill the “black hole” within her. She even tape-records each rambling performance, as Gray does when he’s still developing a monologue, and she presumably listens to the recording the next day, like Gray, trying to identify the thread running through the anecdotes, making them all part of a dramatic narrative.

Lachman frequently loses that thread. Many of the stories seem to be in the show because they got big laughs in the past when she told them to friends. Her account of crashing a Chicago Columbus Day parade, for example, is hilarious. Wearing clown makeup, she marched in front of the parade as a “loud mime,” telling Zen stories and doing cartwheels. The police assumed she was part of the parade and left her alone, but when she saw Pat Nixon and ran up to shake her hand, she was instantly carried away by Secret Service agents. The story gets a big laugh, but like several anecdotes in the show it ends with a thud because Lachman has not quite figured out what the story says about her. Unlike Gray, who is ruthlessly introspective and honest about himself, Lachman seems more intent on getting a reaction from the audience.

Lachman is frequently nude in the stories she tells, and nudity is an ideal symbol for what she’s doing in The Uncensored Stories. Nudity means complete exposure and vulnerability, but it also suggests exhibitionism, a desire to be looked at and admired. That aura of narcissism subverts her performance. Yes, she’s willing to tell all–as long as the stories present her as the audacious, courageous figure she longs to be. But when the time comes to reveal a less savory side–something Gray does with astonishing courage–Lachman backs down, preferring to hide behind the persona of a wise clown.

She’s on the right path, however. The legendary Polish director Jerzy Grotowski once told her, “All your work will come from your life”–a remark that has proved remarkably prescient. But while Lachman is willing to share the surface events of her life with an audience, she still seems reluctant to chart the subterranean currents that guide her behavior. Spalding Gray has talked about being naked too, but he also examined why he was naked and what it felt like. Lachman either cannot or will not reveal that inner experience, and so The Uncensored Stories, despite her claim, are still censored.