The first non-A.C.T. production in the Costume Shop, a new, intimate mid-Market performance venue, has a set that actually looks like a costume shop. Racks of clothing line the rear walls, and long wigs of different shades sit atop mannequin heads. But a couple of clues reveal that this is no ordinary wardrobe room. Some are subtle, like the sheer number of addictive substances on the makeup table: Starbucks, Red Bull, Absolut, Svedka, Jack Daniels, and prescription drugs. Others are more conspicuous, like the huge screen that dominates the stage and the six smaller screens that flank it. Taken together, these set pieces suggest a cycle of image creation, distribution, and destruction -- how better to encapsulate the life of Lindsay Lohan?
Project: Lohan, a Back It Up production on the past 10 years of the starlet's life, is all about the relentless media machine. Writer/performer D'Arcy Drollinger did not actually "write" a single word of the bio-play; his script is a collage of found texts -- everything from tabloids to court transcripts to 911 recordings. Nonfiction, Drollinger says, was simply more entertaining than anything he could come up with. "Seriously," goes a line at the top of the show, "we couldn't make this up."
Drollinger and his supporting cast of five (Liz Anderson, Allegra Rose Edwards, Cindy Goldfield, Michael Patrick Gaffney, and Sara Moore) wear 174 costumes -- those clothing racks in the back are not for decoration -- and play 89 characters: parents, agents, assistants, paparazzi, boyfriends, girlfriends, and frenemies like Paris Hilton and Hilary Duff. Drollinger, with his pouty, breathy voice, simultaneously mocks his character and takes her deeply seriously when she says things like, "I took my extensions out. I had to," or, "It was like I was in Mean Girls, but worse -- Mean Girls is a fake movie." And the ensemble makes each of the revolving cast of characters distinct and comedic, with a special nod to Edwards for conveying the depravity of Lohan's father Michael in the subhuman way she thrusts her neck forward.
Despite the ensemble's talent, the cyclical nature of Project: Lohan gets a little old. Overdoses, car accidents, catfights, hookups, fashion faux pas, rehab visits, movie flops, and court appearances swirl together in an overwhelming morass. This is part of Drollinger's point. In portraying a media culture that's ever-desperate for the next picture, the next pull quote (there's even a camera that projects some scenes of the performance live), Drollinger paints a portrait of Lohan that's as compassionate as it is funny. In his eye, she's clearly the victim of nefarious forces, and her constant drive to make (or attempt) a comeback becomes all the more remarkable. But there are only so many car crash sound effects or "fire crotch" references we can listen to before the limitations of the source material become apparent. A little less historically accurate montage and a little more depth and artistic license would have served Drollinger's production well. We hear so little from Lohan herself, and so much from the many who seek to capture her essence, that watching this production feels a lot like trolling Gawker in the privacy of your own home. It's titillating without edifying, pulling you in without much of a payoff.
Project: Lohan continues through Aug. 19 at the Costume Shop, 1117 Market (at 7th St.), S.F. Admission is $25-$30.