Rolling with Laughter
El Portal Theatre
TICKETHOLDERS – CRITIC’S PICK –
Though readers of my reviews might be used to such offenses, but for me to write here that Natasha Wood is a roll model isn’t offering up another offending typo.
Wood, star, creator and co-writer of her one-person show Rolling with Laughter, now in its world premiere at the El Portal, chronicles her life confined to a wheelchair from the genetic birth disorder Spinal Muscular Atrophy with incredible pluckiness, a few poignant tears, and huge dollop of extreme humor. Not one to appreciate the term “confined” as something to be associated with her life or her disability, what Wood misses in physical capabilities she easily makes up for in strength, spirit, a keenly sharpened sense of humor and, presumably, under the folds of her floor-length denim skirt, an enormous set of balls.
Under Cameron Watson’s understanding direction, Wood delivers her unusual yet inspirational life story while swerving her hot-rodding electric wheels from one side of the stage to the other, spouting the dialogue she created with producer Beverly Sanders in a rapidfire side-mouthed Artful Dodger cockney that makes one wonder if she’s about to launch into the first chorus of “Consider Yourself.” It seems to have been an amazing life that this 36-year old dynamo has led as she raucously details her early days getting used to her father’s own quirky humor—continuously telling his daughter how much he and her swapmeet-underwear-selling mum tried to give her back because she was broken—and explaining what it was like growing up for her and her younger brother, who also was born with the same condition.
Wood brings a rapt and grateful audience up to date through her teenaged days living in an old people’s home to get the care she needed and on to bluffing her way into a prestigious English acting school, soon touring the provinces in walk-on roles with a famous troupe of players. She courageously reminisces about her cherished but now lost 14-year marriage to a Prince Charming Nordic god and ultimately leads us through her time working as a production manager for the BBC, a career that brought her to live in New York City with her caregiver dog Zooey and finally made her plop her bones down right here in our own godforsaken reclaimed desert.
It’s a lovely journey, peppered with many, many outrageous and often bawdy laughs thanks to Wood’s delightfully frank self-deprecating humor. There are also a few heartbreaking moments as well, including saying goodbye to the retiring Zooey and dealing with the eventual disintegration of her tenure as Mrs. Charming when her dentist Prince’s ambitions and her own take opposite directions. The bravest and most wrenching moments come as Wood relives with difficulty the untimely death of her beloved brother, eventually moving her chair upstage and in the opposite direction at the end of that chapter for a few explicable minutes as she recomposes herself before going on.
Thanks to the godsent team of Watson, Sanders and Wood, the indelible Rolling with Laughter provides a spectacular evening bombarding us with laughter yet subtly guaranteeing to make almost anyone leave the theatre with a new spark of hope and a renewed trust in the inherent goodness of our conflicted species as we collectively face a perplexing era consumed by unnecessary violence and horrifically warped political greed (often both simultaneously). If there were more Woods and fewer Bushes in this world, we could see a lot more clearly through the twisted foliage to a potentially blue horizon.
Rolling with Laughter plays through May 8 at the El Portal Forum Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Bl., NoHo; for tickets, call (818) 508-4200.