John Paul Karliak charms and mesmerizes in his autobiographical one-act “Donna/Madonna,” vividly enacting his unique personal tale of growing up a gay adopted child, and eventually meeting his birth mother, all the while stepping out and back into his closet. The show runs through Aug. 10 at Hollywood’s Lounge Theatre.
The evening opens with Karliak at age 6 debuting, with as much fanfare as a family living room can provide, his spot-on Carol Channing impression for his parents. You can visualize the surprised expressions on his parents’ faces as Karliak very descriptively depicts the ensuing uncomfortable minutes.
Always trying to please his traditional parents, Karliak learns to keep his flamboyance under wraps, occasionally attempting to butch it up. For instance, for a particular high school costume party, Karliak leaves his home dressed in Darth Vadar robes so that his folks won’t see his Spice Girl outfit underneath.
As Karliak navigates his childhood as the only gay person he knows of in Scranton, Pennsylvania, he starts to wonder what his birth mother would be like. When circumstances lead to their initial meeting, Karliak hesitates to tell the mother who raised him for fear she will be hurt.
Karliak easily slips into his various characters, utilizing distinct voice inflections, body language and mannerisms to delineate between them. Especially impressive was a rapid-fire exchange with his newfound birth mother at a Los Angeles Starbucks.
Co-directors Tiger Reel and Matt Craig keep the 85 minutes moving smoothly. A chair is Karliak’s single prop, and there are a few pleasantly sung showtune parodies interpersed.
It’s easy to see why this show won the Best One-Man Show award in New York City’s United Solo Theatre Festival last year.
Performances through Aug. 10, Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 8 p.m., with an added performance Monday, Aug. 1, at 8 p.m., at the Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. For tickets, call (323) 960-4420 or visit www.plays411.com/donnamadonna. Proceeds will benefit Kinship Center, a California nonprofit agency dedicated to the creation, preservation and support of foster, adoptive and relative families for children who need them.