Alanna Ubach in Patriotic Bitch
Alanna Ubach in Patriotic Bitch
Yolanda, the central figure in Alanna Ubach's ultimately appealing, multi-character solo show Patriotic Bitch, at Theatre Row's Clurman Theatre, actually couldn't be less of a bitch. Newly (and illegally) immigrated, this sweet and trusting Mexicana spends her days handing out paper towels in the ladies' room of a swank LA hotel. And her patriotism is initially limited to hawking T-shirts hand-painted with American flags outside Dodger Stadium. In a series of seemingly random encounters with the women who pass through her humble domain, plus excerpts from the TV shows that keep her company, we slowly learn how Yolanda happened to land in this peculiar underworld, and the grit she must muster to survive.

A powerful presence, Ubach is a marginally stronger actor than playwright, but she's impressive in both roles. The play's structure could best be compared to a Tracy Ullman pastiche in which all the disparate personae turn out to be related or acquainted. What at first seems like a chaotic assemblage of uncannily spot-on portraits -- for example, a pumped-up fitness guru or a combative African-American American Idol contestant -- gradually coalesces into a cohesive narrative.

Yet such is our hunger for a storyline that the early passages, despite Ubach's extraordinary physical expressivity and ear for diverse speech patterns (including plain old privileged white girl), appear engaging but gratuitous. It's only when she begins to knit the strings together that the whole begins to click.

Another sit-up-and-take-notice cue is when Ubach morphs into the vituperative and laceratingly funny TV pundit "Jackie Queen" -- a superbitch if ever there was one. She's outdone only by her spoiled "anti-Christ" of a daughter, Angela, whose Muslim best friend, uneasily headed to the altar, has a sister courting fame as a rapper supposedly from "the Baghdad 'hood." They're all Beverly Hills to the core, but you've got to hand props to someone who'd think to rhyme Ted Koppel and falafel.

Yolanda's situation lends itself easily to pathos, so it seems a pity that one of the trials she undergoes is marred by knee-jerk homophobia -- a reaction endemic to the character, perhaps, but never fun to observe. Then again, to Ubach's credit, she doesn't seem to make any special effort to make the audience like her in any of the guises she assumes. Nor does the performance come across as an in-your-face tour-de-force. She just throws herself into each perspective as if it were the only one that existed -- the way in which most of us, inevitably, approach the world.