See, you get this fungus from another
person and it clones itself. . .
Actor Lauren TomBy Tim Ryan
brings her solo comedy to
the Mamiya stage
Actor Lauren Tom of "The Joy Luck Club," "Friends" and "Chorus Line" is yelling across her Hollywood Hills home.
"It's on the floor, Michael, the phone is on the floor!"
Michael is Michael McKean, better known as Lenny on the old "Laverne & Shirley" television show, and who co-starred in "The Brady Bunch," "Young Doctors in Love," and as the lead singer/rhythm guitarist David St. Hubbins in "This is Spinal Tap." McKean and Tom have been romantically involved the last 18 months.
"Helloooo," McKean says when he finally finds the extension.
"Hi, Michael," Tom coos back.
"Hi Lauren," McKean answers.
"Uh," a reporter interrupts, "maybe I should call back so you two can, well, continue your conversation privately.
McKean feigns annoyance.
"Oh, just ask your questions! But let me warn you that it's every man for himself."
Tomorrow at Mamiya Theatre, Tom performs her one-woman comedy, "25 Psychics," which started out as a monologue after Tom tape-recorded her grandmother a few years ago, telling the story of how she came to the United States from China.
While transcribing it, Tom inserted some of her own experiences about life in America as an Asian woman, and her personal search for spiritual enlightenment. She then submitted it to HBO, which eventually sponsored her performance at the Aspen Comedy Arts Festival.
"I know it sounds a bit cliche, too L.A., but '25 Psychics' is the story about my search for meanings and the people I've met on my path. What I learned is that most of the wisdom we gain comes from our own backyards, our own families."
The 60-minute play includes vignettes about growing up in the only Asian family in a Jewish neighborhood, practicing tai chi, undergoing dream analysis and growing her own fungus.
"Oh yeah, that was pretty disgusting," Tom says about the fungus. "See, you get this fungus from another person and it clones itself. Once there's enough of it you make a tea which you drink three times a day."
. . . that was one of the pluses
she used to lure me, not
drinking fungus anymore.
Some people told Tom the elixir was a fountain of youth that would maintain one's natural hair color, and cure diseases like AIDS. All Tom got after three months was nausea.
McKean pipes in that he used to grow his own fungus "unintentionally."
"It was before I learned how to do laundry," he says.
McKean never had the opportunity to drink Tom's fungus.
"About the time we met she was giving up the practice; her post-fungal period. That was one of the pluses she used to lure me, not drinking fungus anymore."
"25 Psychics" is the hardest thing Tom has ever done.
"Every show is like, 'Oh my God! I hope we get through this.' And every performance is different, so I can barely remember the order of things.
"But it's also a real healing experience. I feel vulnerable out there, but you have to go for it because that's what makes it real. One of the purposes of theater is to create a healing experience for the audience and yourself."
McKean describes "25 Psychics" as funny and touching.
"There is something in every show that makes me cry," he said. "It's about changes in families and how you feel about missed opportunities in making contact with someone, chances that never come again. Some stuff is about coming to terms with who you are."
McKean accompanies Tom to many of her performances.
"I know no matter how wrong things go, Michael will bring me back to reality," she said.
"If she's learned anything from me, it's not to sweat the small stuff," says McKean who admits he'll be "totally free-loading" on the Hawaii trip.
"This trip is for her to work and for me to play. Free-loading is the key to our relationship. As long as one of us is coasting and the other one is working his ass off, everything is fine."
The couple first met five years when reading for a part in a film. They met again in 1995 on the set of "Friends" when their dressing rooms were next to each other.
"Lauren would come over and read parts of '25 Psychics' to me and I would flirt with her," McKean said.
"Gosh, you looked like you were very interested."
"Oh, I was, I was."
"Actually, you were staring at my breasts," Tom says.
"I was not! I was throwing everything into your eyes."
Tom's ambition comes from her parents who moved the family into an all-Jewish suburb of Chicago so they could assimilate into American culture as quickly as possible.
"They never thought about danger or prejudice, though some of the kids teased me with 'Ching, Chong Chinaman' stuff."
"Hey, I still can't call her a Chinaman," McKean said.
"But chink is OK," Tom says, laughing.
Are there marriage plans?
"Wow, you're the first one to ever bring that up!" McKean says.
As the reporter says good bye, the couple continue chattering on two phones in the same house.
25 PsychicsFeaturing: Lauren Tom, in a one-woman comedy
When: Tomorrow, 8 p.m.
Place: Mamiya Theatre
Also:A Conversation with Lauren Tom, 7:30 tonight, Krauss Hall, Yukiyoshi Room, UH-Manoa, free