BY KATHLEEN CAMPION
I went to see “Mercedes Benz Awkwardly” because I thought the title was clever. Still, I worried the title might have set too high a bar for the show. No worries! “Mercedes Benz Awkwardly” is a terrific way to spend an hour and if you can still get a ticket, get it.
Teatro Circulo in the East Village is intimate, with seating on three sides, folding chairs on the stage floor. A dancer’s pole dominates the simple set.
Mercedes enters ready to tell us what it’s like on her side of the lap dance. Hannah Williams is Mercedes. She is the writer and producer of this one-woman show she’s been polishing for years, perfecting it from a 10-minute cabaret number to this accomplished piece.
Mercedes walks us through the stages of stripping – novice, sophomore, “the pole,” the top earner, and ultimately the angry and funny and fully realized “this-isn’t-what-I-signed-up-for” woman.
Williams/Mercedes works the room with that intuitive grace that makes you want to play with her. She struts the stage, grinding and thrusting, talking nonstop. A kind of outraged stream of consciousness accompanies her dancing as she considers what she’s doing. She even offers some proficiency on the pole, and occasionally offers up a studied awkwardness for comic effect; not so much Buster Keaton as Carol Burnett. You just can’t help liking the girl inside the stripper-suit.
She takes a lot of risks approaching strangers in the audience, but all the risks are hers. She takes the pie-in-the-face, or in this case, the whipped cream off the pole. No one was made to look foolish because, very early on, she did that magic thing gifted performers sometimes can manage, she convinced us we were having fun together.
You can see her editing her material for the crowd that shows up, suggesting she’s 100% in-the-moment, and on a high wire of her own making. Director Hayley Butcher makes her share of the magic. David Peake’s music moves Mercedes through a fast-paced, nearly seamless hour.
Williams has a big range; a machine-gun delivery when she’s piercing the arrogance of an imaginary customer, and a soft, girl-next-door presence (like Julia Robert’s “Pretty Woman”) when she chooses.
I left the theater giddy from an hour in a grown-up playpen and sticky from the whipped cream.
Saturday, August 24 at noon and 10:00 pm. Teatro Circulo, 64 East 4th Street. Tickets $18, general admission. And, if you really, really don’t want to have a personal encounter with Mercedes, (and that’s a weenie choice), don’t sit in the first row.