Ann Magnuson in Rave Mom
Ann Magnuson in Rave Mom
When Ann Magnuson first appears on stage at the beginning of her one-woman show Rave Mom--decked out in oversized sunglasses, pacifier, and various other accessories from the raver's demimonde--her appearance and attitude appear to confirm what her show's title suggests: This will be an adorable trifle about a middle-aged woman who gets hip to the delirious world of ecstasy and trance music.

So it is. But Magnuson is smarter than that...and sneakier, too. In Rave Mom, our heroine goes to various parties, takes various drugs, and falls in and out of love with an Internet millionaire referred to (for legal reasons, she winks) as Moneybags. By the midpoint of the show, it has become clear that this is much more than a reminiscence of days and nights in clubland. Magnuson, or at least the version of Magnuson that we see on stage ("Y'all know this is one of those semi-autobiographical shows, right?" she asks us early in the proceedings), didn't decide arbitrarily to immerse herself in this dizzy subculture: She was reeling in and out of depression, having suffered the death of a cherished brother. Rave Mom is a hilarious fish-out-of-water tale and a goofy post-millenial love story, but it is also about melancholy, redemption, and a very personal search for peace.

Magnuson begins her travels (and her show) at the hideous Circus Circus in Las Vegas, where she is spending New Year's Eve 1999. At first leery of the invitation from a new, young friend named Troy, she has ended up having the most spectacular time, dizzy with joy at the Hard Rock Café or out on the strip or in a disgusting hotel room at Circus Circus. Of course, she's high as a kite, as she will be intermittently over the next year or so--whether she's doing Ecstasy and GHB at a rave or opiates with Moneybags, who shows up every once in a while to dangle the offer of a better life. (The character is represented on stage by a glittering golden carrot suspended on a string.)

We travel along with Magnuson as she navigates these universes: the multicolored garrets of the ravers, the high-society soirees of Moneybags, and the complex maze within her own heart. In the end, she emerges at Burning Man, a sort of Uber-rave in Nevada where she experiences the sober (both senses) catharsis she so richly deserves and so desperately needs.

This description may make Rave Mom sound like a heavy show. It is not, because Magnuson--a tremendously likable performer--is too damn funny to let the emotional weight of the piece become overbearing. Like so many drug cultural phenomena, raves are treasure troves of comic detail, and Magnuson doesn't miss a trick. Particularly funny is her explication of PLUR, a raver acronym for Peace, Love, Unity, and Respect. ("Wait a minute," she thinks at one of Moneybags' celebrity-studded outings, "there's no PLUR here!") Magnuson realizes that there is something delicious in allowing audiences full access to someone's mess of a life. We get a sense of nothing being held back here.

Andrew Leiberman has done a great job in designing the set for Magnuson's show: She looks like she's on board an alien spaceship, and anyone who's been to a rave will recognize the feeling if not the specific physical details. Judging by the easy flow and careful pacing of Rave Mom, director David Schweizer has also performed admirably; only the last 10 minutes or so begin to drag as Magnuson appends an epilogue to what seems the proper ending of the piece. But that's a minor, last-minute irritant. On the whole, Rave Mom is a richly rewarding, hysterically funny evening of theater.