Pat Launer, Center Stage on KSDS JAZZ88
February 13, 2015
You probably know him from his pitch-perfect impersonation of Bill Clinton on “Saturday Night Live.” You may not know that he was the longest-running cast member on that show. Or that he’s performed for four Presidents. There’s a whole lot more you don’t know about Darrell Hammond, and he’s now at the La Jolla Playhouse to tell you.
This world premiere, “The Darrell Hammond Project,” goes dark and deep. Yes, there are many hilarious impressions, from Daffy Duck to Dick Cheney. But Hammond is, as the title suggests, a work in progress. And he’s here to divulge the harrowing story of his life, which features five detox experiences, nine psychiatric facilities, including two on lockdown, and a plethora of diagnostic pronouncements, ranging from schizophrenic to alcoholic, with some of his astonishing string of 40 psychiatrists suggesting that he was bipolar, uni -polar, psychotic, or had multiple personality disorder. More than 13 drugs have been prescribed, not to mention the ones he took to self-medicate.
But as hair-raising as his journey has been, as gut-wrenching as it obviously is for him to tell it, tell it he must. There’s catharsis going on here, to be sure, but equally important is the subliminal message that you cannot suffer in silence, secretly cutting yourself to take away the fear or pain or voices or colors, whatever plagues you. Sharing your story is critical.
Hammond has an engagingly matter-of-fact way of telling horrific tales. He’s also, of course, very funny. And slyly sarcastic. He can metamorphose from character to character in a nanosecond. His comedic skills are impressive. So is his perseverance and endurance through a nightmare existence.
The audience surrounds him on three sides in Robert Brill’s beautifully minimalist set, backed by bookshelves and wonderful lighting and projections. With co-writer Elizabeth Stein and Christopher Ashley’s sensitive direction, subtle shifts in tone carry us through the emotional tough spots. Humor helps. It’s gotten Hammond through life, and it gets us through the night.
“The Darrell Hammond Project ” runs through March 8, at the La Jolla Playhouse.
©2015 PAT LAUNER