Actress holds nothing back in her show

A no-holds-barred one-woman show

Review: It's less than refined, but Susan Mele's one-woman show is entertaining.

November 03, 2001|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

The props in Susan Mele's one-woman show at the Theatre Project give a pretty good indication of what to expect.

For starters, there's a row of seven wigs on wig stands that suggest we're in for an array of characters. Then there's the toilet, prominently situated stage left. Together with the show's title, Just Say Blow Me, the toilet suggests that the level of discourse is going to be less than refined.

The show -- co-written by Mele and Leah Ryan and directed by Kirsten Laurel - doesn't disappoint in either respect. Mele is a versatile performer whose characters range from an insult-spewing cleaning lady to a talent-impaired lounge singer.

And yes, there's more than a little bathroom humor, whether stemming from a shopoholic character who gets the runs every time she hits the mall, or an inebriated alcohol-abuse counselor, who alternately imbibes and upchucks as she prepares to give a speech.

The framework connecting these characters is a self-help conference at an airport hotel, an event that provides an opportunity to skewer everything from compulsive eating to compulsive talking and compulsive sex. The effect is a little like seeing a week of tabloid TV talk shows compressed into 85 minutes - but it's a lot more amusing, particularly since Mele's thesis seems to be: Embrace your neuroses.

The cleaning lady with the bad attitude is Mele's strongest character, and wisely, she is woven throughout the evening. With a bandana on her head, a paper bag-shrouded liquor bottle in one hand and all the grace of a lumberjack, this cantankerous character gruffly addresses the audience at the beginning and end ("Clean up and get outta here," she barks) and offers a running commentary on the action in-between.

She may not cut a pleasant figure, but the cleaning lady is the only character who has an accurate sense of herself.

The same certainly cannot be said of the breathy-voiced lounge singer, Roxi Starr, whose tendency to drop names is exceeded only by her tendency to drop notes. Roxi's last number - the songs have lyrics by Ryan and music by Daniel C. Meyer, who provides on-stage piano accompaniment - is her best.

A catalog of romantic rejects (including "a champion bowler [who] was a bit bipolar"), the song winds up with her swearing off, and at, the opposite sex. It's a stance that lasts just as long as it takes her to turn around and hit on the piano player.

Mele - who moved to Maryland from California a year ago - has been honing and performing this show for three years in theaters from San Francisco to New York. Excerpts were included in last June's installment of Queer Cafe at the Theatre Project, but seven of the current sketches are debuting in this version.

Some of the edges are still rough, and gearing the self-help conference to the millennium feels dated. But this no-holds-barred show may be onto something when it comes to blurring the line between self-help and self-delusion. You might say there's a method to Mele's madness.

Theatre Project

Who: Susan Mele at Theatre Project

Where: 45 W. Preston St.

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays. Through Nov. 17

Tickets: $15

Call: 410-752-8558

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