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THEATER REVIEW: "The Darrell Hammond Project" at La Jolla Playhouse

Stand-up comic Darrell Hammond holds the record for the longest tenure of any cast member in “Saturday Night Live” history (1995-2009). Probably best known for his impression of Bill Clinton, he is also known for his versions of Al Gore, Sean Connery, Donald Trump and John Travolta.

But the comedy often masked the darkness in his psyche, the result of maternal child abuse that led to drinking, substance abuse, cutting (sometimes backstage at SNL) and visits to 40 psychiatrists over a 30-year period.

Hammond performs his one-man “The Darrell Hammond Project” (based on his autobiography “God, If You’re Not Up There, I’m F*cked”) through March 8 at La Jolla Playhouse.

“The Darrell Hammond Project” starts with some comic bits that many in the audience seemed to recognize (I didn’t, and they didn’t strike me as particularly funny, but I seemed to be in the minority).

The rest tells of his torturous journey toward psychic healing after a childhood in which he woke up “every day of my life thinking something bad was going to happen.” Mostly his mother – herself a victim of child abuse – tortured him in various horrible ways such as stabbing, cutting his tongue and slamming his fingers in a door.

The only positive relationship he recalls with his mother is that they were both good at doing voice impressions, and would do all the voices in Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”

Combining comedy and psychiatric history is a delicate business. This show is nothing if not an indictment of the psychiatric profession which over the years diagnosed him incorrectly “with at least six major mental illnesses” (including bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and multiple personality disorder) and put him on a total of 13 psychotropic drugs.

Only the 40th psychiatrist made him understand that “in order to be a monster, you have to first be a victim,” which eventually gave him freedom from the nightmares about his mother that had plagued him for years.

Hammond is not performing regularly on SNL anymore, but last year he was named announcer on the show.

“The Darrell Hammond Project” is a curious piece, difficult to classify and even more difficult to review. Hammond’s SNL fans will want to see this. So should everyone in the psychiatric and therapeutic community.

The details

The Darrell Hammond Project” plays through March 8 at La Jolla Playhouse’s Sheila and Hughes Potiker Theatre, 2910 La Jolla Village Drive (on the UCSD campus).

Tuesday and Wednesday at 7:30 pm; Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; various times on Saturday and Sunday.

Tickets: (858) 550-1010 or HERE.