Technically, Darrell Hammond's world-premiere stage production at La Jolla Playhouse is a one-man show. But he's not alone out there. The specter of Bill Clinton, Hammond's most famous impression, lurks over one shoulder. Over the other, a presence far graver, are the specters of Hammond's harrowing childhood—an impenetrable father who prided himself on being a Nazi killer, an abusive mother and recurring mental illness.
Sounds side-splitting, right? There are actually lots of laughs in The Darrell Hammond Project, written by Hammond and Elizabeth Stein and directed by the Playhouse's Christopher Ashley: impressions, stand-up snippets, a re-creation of Hammond's audition for Lorne Michaels and Saturday Night Live. But if you've read Hammond's 2011 memoir, God, If You're Not Up There, I'm F*cked: Tales of Stand-Up, Saturday Night Live and Other Mind-Altering Mayhem, then you already know that he's been to hell and back, multiple times over. Crack. Booze. Self-mutilation. Psychiatric hospitalization. Shrinks, 40 of them. If you haven't read the memoir and this is all new to you, then hold on to your Playhouse seat.
With the aid of archival SNL footage, personally historical photos (Hammond and ex- Padres manager Bruce Bochy on the same youth baseball team) and music, Hammond riffs a little and testifies a lot about a life that's been no laughing matter. That he's had a successful career during his most difficult trials is remarkable. If he tried to cope by hiding himself in his comedy and his characters, that wasn't enough. How the right doctor—finally!—helped Hammond see the path to recovery and address the abuses done to him is the foundation of the fast-moving one-man show.
The Darrell Hammond Project is neither a riot act nor a pity party; it's something in between: 90 minutes with a troubled talent who's survived to tell a helluva tale and who throws in enough spot-on Clintons, Dubyas, Regis Philbins and Sean Connerys to remind us why we're glad he's survived.
On opening night, Hammond seemed visibly nervous, but who could blame him? His are not easy stories to share. This is no SNL sketch, but it's live and it's real and it's often unsettling—just how meaningful theater ought to be.
The Darrell Hammond Project runs through March 8 at La Jolla Playhouse. $15 and up; lajollaplayhouse.org.
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee: Adult actors play quirky middle-school students in a musical comedy about a spelling contest. Presented by Intrepid Shakespeare Company, it opens Feb. 13 in the Performing Arts Center at San Marcos High School. intrepidshakespeare.com
The Addams Family: A musical version of the creepy and kooky '60s TV series has daughter Wednesday all grown up and bringing her new love home to dinner. Presented by Star Repertory Theatre (all-youth), it opens Feb. 13 at the Lyceum Theatre at Horton Plaza, Downtown. starrepertorytheatre.com
DNA New Work Series: La Jolla Playhouse hosts two weeks' worth of workshopped plays and staged readings of new material by emerging writers, giving the public a chance to see how these pieces are developed. Opens Feb. 16. lajollaplahouse.org
San Diego, I Love You: Circle Circle Dot Dot takes you on a site-specific theatrical journey around the UCSD campus, where you watch a love story between two students unfold. Opens Feb. 14, starting at the Hopkins Parking Structure at UCSD. circle2dot2.com
Sondheim on Sondheim: A revue of the legendary composer's work, featuring two-dozen classic tunes. Presented by Moonlight Stage Productions, it opens Feb. 12 at Avo Playhouse in Vista. moonlightstage.com
Talley's Folly: A one-act play about a man who shows up uninvited in 1944 to ask a woman he'd met the previous summer to marry him. Opens Feb. 13 at Point Loma Actors Theatre. pointlomaactors.com
The Twenty-seventh Man: It's 1952, and Stalin has jailed 26 luminaries of Yiddish literature. The story truly begins when No. 27 arrives behind bars. Opens Feb. 14 at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. theoldglobe.com
West Side Story: It's pretty much Romeo and Juliet, but in 1950s New York City—and there's singing and dancing. Presented by San Diego Musical Theatre, it opens Feb. 13 at Spreckels Theatre, Downtown. sdmt.org
You Can't Take it with You: Zany characters abound, and kooky things keep happening, in the home of Paul and Penny Sycamore. Opens Feb. 13 at Lamb's Players Theatre in Coronado. lambsplayers.org
One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest:A rabble-rouser fakes mental illness in order to serve his sentence in a hospital rather than prison. It doesn't end well. Through Feb. 14 at OnStage Playhouse in Chula Vista. onstageplayhouse.org
Gunmetal Blues:By-the-numbers film-noir parody gets the musical treatment. Through Feb. 15 at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach. northcoastrep.org
Sons of the Prophet:In this Pulitzer Prize finalist, a gay adult Lebanese immigrant living in Pennsylvania must care for his younger brother and ailing uncle in the wake of his father's sudden death. Presented by Cygnet Theatre, it runs through Feb. 15 at the Old Town Theatre. cygnettheatre.com
Tribute:A charming, humorous, middle-aged man faces a life crisis, prompting him to attempt to resolve his troubled relationship with his son. Presented by Scripps Ranch Theatre, it runs through Feb. 15 at the Legler Benbough Theatre. scrippsranchtheatre.org
The Grift at the Lafayette Hotel:Director Tom Salamon's latest immersive theater experience takes audiences in and out of various rooms and other spaces inside one of San Diego's coolest hotels. Presented by La Jolla Playhouse, it runs through March 22 at the Lafayette Hotel in University Heights. lajollaplayhouse.org
Trouble in Mind:In 1955, black actors struggle with their roles in a Broadway play-within-a-play that's produced and directed by white men. Through Feb. 22 at Moxie Theatre in Rolando. moxietheatre.com
Murder at the Howard Johnson's:A slapstick comedy about a plan by woman and her lover to off her husband. Through March 1 at The Lamplighters Community Theatre in La Mesa. lamplighterslamesa.com
Murder for Two:In this musical, one actor plays a detective, and another plays 10 different people who are suspected of murdering a famous novelist during his birthday party. Through March 1 at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. theoldglobe.org
Stage Kiss:In this farce, two actors with a romantic past are cast in a play about two people with a romantic past. Through March 1 at New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad. newvillagearts.org
This:In this comedy, a group of friends struggle with their demons and confront middle age. Through March 1 at Patio Playhouse in Escondido. patioplayhouse.com
The Darrell Hammond Project:Darrell Hammond, the longest-tenured cast member in the history of Saturday Night Live, tells his own life story in a one-man show. Through March 8 at La Jolla Playhouse. lajollaplayhouse.org
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat:In a musical based on a biblical tale, a dude who has an "amazing" garment becomes a slave, but he triumphs in Egypt regardless.Presented by Lamb's Players Theatre, it runs through March 29 at the Horton Grand Theatre, Downtown. lambsplayers.org
Win Place or Die My Jockeys are Killing Me: Mystery Café's latest comic-caper dinner-theater production is set at the Thoroughbred Club at Upson Down Race Track. It's ongoing at Imperial House restaurant in Bankers Hill. mysterycafe.net