Susan Mele is a very funny lady who has absolutely no shame whatsoever. In Just Say Blow Me, her new one-woman show written with Leah Ryan, she examines people who hate other people who exercise self-control with such a wild abandon that the laughter flows freely - and at times convulsively.
Essentially a series of blackout skits reminiscent of the anarchic spirit of Saturday Night Live, the topical subjects are laced with dark-veined humor, sex, a fascination with scatology, and comments on poor social behavior. And like that anthologic revue, nearly every sketch seems compromised by a basically funny idea that has nowhere to go once the initial premise is presented. A prime example is Mele's examination of a shopaholic who can't seem to enter a store without developing uncontrollable gas and diarrhea. The idea is hilarious, but the psychology that underlies this woman's behavior is ignored in favor of tasteless, crude jokes about loose bowels and explicit, loud fart noises. In addition, Ed Cheetham's direction was aimless, allowing Ms. Mele an unrestrained freedom that at times got out of hand, and nothing in the piece seemed organic to the overall flow - the long, elaborate setups between the sketches being especially damaging to the pace of the show.
But Ms. Mele was such a formidable presence that all reservations were swept away by the sheer force of her personality. A natural comic, she rose above her material with the inspired lunacy of Andrea Martin and the grand caustic hauteur of Dame Maggie Smith. Whether stuffing a gruesome combination of twinkies, ding-dongs, and cheese doodles into her mouth and then literally beating herself up as a masochistic dieter, spitting wads of gum all over the stage as a chain gum-chewer, or slapping a huge black dildo against the palm of her hand as a woman giving "unbabes" a lecture on how to "own their slutdom," she was so sure of herself that the audience dissolved into spasms of helpless laughter with every perfectly phrased line. Her best moments came when she donned a blond wig and launched into a long, funny monolog as a lush, drunk out of her skull, prepares to give a talk to a teen group about the dangers of drinking. Her timing, inflections, and physicality in this scene, the most completely rounded and successful portion of the evening, were nearly flawless as she stumbled, mumbled, and stuttered her way through the jumble of incoherent thinking that constitutes the singular logic of the inebriated.
Performed on the set Ms. Ryan's Bleached, the production
design by Michael Murphy was functional, and like the direction,
gave Mele the room her outsized personality needed. But Mele and
Ryan have relied too heavily on Mele's natural vivacity to fill
in for sharper, more adult writing, and ultimately, Just Say
Blow Me did not satiate the demands that the star performance
of its delightfully over-powering co-creator required.
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Copyright 1999 Doug DeVita