Setting a play in the ladies room of a trendy Manhattan restaurant is inspired, but even the best ideas can go wrong. Witness Wrestling Porcelain written and acted by the Wreckio Ensemble. Well, they've certainly made a "wreckio" of this one, squandering almost every opportunity to create real characters and turning their production at the Ontological Theatre at St. Mark's Church into a series of downtown cartoons.
Focusing on a Cuban ladies room attendant who's on the verge of a nervous breakdown, the play jumps from flat farce to feeble fantasy. The members of the Wreckio crew -- Randi Berry, Dechelle Damien, Michelle Diaz, and Karly Maurer -- are all better actresses than they are writers. Each of them stands out in at least one scene during the course of the show. Director Tamera Cone is adept at keeping things lively but lets the play run amuck in shallow stereotypes.
Mark Nadler Among the Living
Our first trip to see a show at the new East Side addition to the cabaret community, Opia (East 57th Street at Lexington Avenue), proved to be a most happy occasion. The room is beautiful and the menu quite remarkable, plus we had the pleasure of seeing Mark Nadler in his entertaining new act Write Now! Songs by People Who Aren't Dead, devoted exclusively to the music of living composers. In fact, five of the composers represented in the show were in attendance the night we were there. If that isn't live entertainment, what is?
Cabaret rightfully pays special attention to the Great American Songbook but that sometimes means that contemporary composers and lyricists don't receive their fair share of the spotlight. Nadler corrects the oversight with a show that includes songs by Francesca Blumenthal, John Wallowitch, Ervin Drake, Carol Hall, Steven Lutvak, Ray Fox, John Forster, and others who have added to the glory of American popular music.
Nadler is best known for his exuberant musical comedy; some of that is on display here but he has purposefully chosen a more conversational (rather than comically confrontational) style for his show at Opia. He's out to educate us about these composers and he does so with his engaging patter and his interpretive skills as a singer. He's particularly effective in patter songs but, in an effort to stress the lyrics of ballads, he sometimes shortchanges the melodic beauty of such tunes as "Lover of Highwire" (Lutvak/Hall). But this is a brand new show that's bound to evolve and change over the next few weeks; Nadler continues at Opia till the end of July, Thursday through Saturday nights at 9pm.
We're catching a number of shows in Mama Rose's brilliantly conceived Under the Covers series this summer, the most recent of which was Steven Ray Watkins' deeply felt genuflection to Carly Simon's No Secrets album.
Watkins is a much better actor than most cabaret performers and he put that talent to use here, giving us an inside glimpse of the emotions that this seminal album engendered in him. It might be sacrilege to say that Simon's pop tunes are overrated: Many of her individual songs have one good idea that is repeated over and over again. But if we can't quite understand why Simon is so beloved, we certainly know that Steven Ray Watkins should be. A gifted musician with a warm, enveloping, pop voice and a flair for easy, charming patter, he's a natural entertainer. He found something to convey in almost every Simon song on the No Secrets album, oftentimes giving us much more in his live performance than is written on the sheet music.
Alexandra de Suze is tall and "ethnically ambiguous," but her commanding stage presence is primarily due to her raw talent. Whether she hits or misses with a particular song, you sit up and take notice because de Suze has got de Voice.
In her recent show at Mama Rose's, Following My Voice, de Suze took on a wide range of musical styles. Like a colt finding its legs, she stumbled from time to time, as when she skidded along the surface of a medley of show tunes written for men. She didn't reinterpret them; she simply proved that she could sing them, which was not enough to make the medley compelling. On the other hand, she displayed a gift for jazz, singing "Embraceable You" in homage to Sarah Vaughan. And she showed off a Broadway-style belt in renditions of "Mama Will Provide" and "Brand New Day," the latter performed a cappella. Classically trained, de Suze also dazzled with an aria from Carmen.
This is a case of a very talented newcomer who needs to further refine her craft and write a tighter, more focused show. She not only has de Voice, she also has de Personality and the de Looks to make a name for herself. If all of that comes together, Alexandra de Suze could loom large.
Hector Coris, Si!
Hector Coris is a delightful discovery. Not Me, this songwriter/singer's playful act at Don't Tell Mama, was wry, rueful, and royally ridiculous. His lyrics, matched with music by Paul L. Johnson, made wonderful comic sport out of Coris's life. Bad at being Spanish ("The Only Spanish Thing I Do") and gay ("Terrible Homosexual"), and unlucky in love ("Lowering My Standards"), Coris sings his own inspired, self-deprecating songs with a genuine talent for performance: He has impeccable comic timing and a great sad-sack mug.
Strongest on the comedy material, Coris got into a muddle when he turned serious; but this is an entertainer who really seems to know himself so he never strayed off course for too long. The show consisted entirely of original material and a very large percentage of it was damned good. Musical director Paul L. Johnson helped make all of the songs sound swell. Ricky Merpi and Matthew Myers provided amusing backup and director Collette Black did a splendid job of staging this revue so as to milk every last laugh from it.