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Dechelle Damien, Michelle Diaz, Karly Maurer, and Randi Berry
in Wrestling Porcelian
(Photo © Richie Fahey)
Ever since Marcel Duchamp hung an inverted urinal on the wall of an art gallery, potty humor has been considered ripe material for artistic exploration. Duchamp's "Fountain" is on prominent display at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art while Claes Oldenburg's "Soft Toilet" is a hot spot at the Whitney Museum in New York. Both pieces stand as part of an anti-aesthetic movement that aims to knock art off of its ivory tower and make it land on a porcelain throne. The Wreckio Ensemble channels this Dadaist impulse in a play called Wrestling Porcelain that tries to teach us a little bit about how we live by examining how we -- well, never mind.

The play follows an aging Cuban woman named Cecy who has worked as an attendant in a restaurant's ladies' room for more than 30 years. As the action begins, she's on the verge of a breakdown: Tonight, her uptight boss will horde the candy that she bought out of her own pocket, a trashy Russian woman will steal from her tip bowl, and two Jersey girls will get her involved unwittingly in a narcotics ring. She finds solace in an overactive imagination as she dreams of a better world that lies beyond a mysterious, forbidden door.

Although the plot has plenty of potential for humor and social commentary, it is weighed down by familiarity and pretension. A biker chick enters to the accompaniment of the song "Bad to the Bone" and a French fashionista has an art-pop anthem courtesy of a group called Dimitri from Paris. Big-top music plays during one marathon cleaning session. Another scene is a hackneyed send-up of a holy roller with the ironic punch line that the born again Christian was once a Jew. (Have the writers never heard of Jews for Jesus?) Through it all, a percussionist plays an African drum in an avant-garde style that gives the scatological gags an air of self-importance.

These clichéd portrayals prime the audience to judge the characters by their stereotypes, and this move hurts the company's later attempts to humanize Cecy et al. It also tends to overshadow some of the stronger writing; stripped to its essentials, the script shows tremendous promise. In Wrestling Porcelain's best moments, Cecy -- whose name is pronounced like the Spanish words for "Yes, yes" -- is a moving personification of the immigrant experience in America. It's painful to watch this middle-aged woman's servitude to her 23-year-old supervisor but the show's garnish ultimately distracts from the meat of the story.

In a strong performance as Cecy, Dechelle Damien walks the thin line between satire and ridicule, managing to keep the character on the right side of that line. The fact that Damien also designed the impressive set says something about the company's collective talent and dexterity. Supporting actresses Randi Berry, Michelle Diaz, and Karly Maurer ably take on the many roles assigned to them. Director Tamera Cone's detailed, surrealistic choreography is impressive but would have been better suited to a different play. Although Wrestling Procelain may be intended as a cross between the work of Elmer Rice and Sophie Treadwell, the delivery of the material is a bit like applying Living Theatre techniques to an early Jim Carrey vehicle.

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