By Stanford Friedman
The 20th annual New York International Fringe Festival is underway, and this year I’m taking the cowardly way out. I’m attending three shows, all of which are brief, solo comedies at the Huron Club, a venue I know to be well air conditioned. This means I’ll be missing an electropop version of Medea on Avenue A, the historical drama Einstein!, and the festival’s first Iranian play. To those who so venture, I salute thee. To those who would like to hear a guy in shorts sing about dirty kitchens, I can recommend Paul Adams’ The Cleaning Guy.
Adams, the founder of the Emerging Artists Theater Company, has been supporting his Artistic Director habit over the past quarter century by cleaning Manhattan apartments. Yes, it’s as funny, vulgar, and sad a chore as you can imagine. Perverted men attempting to seduce him? Naturally. Excrement? Exactly. A dishwasher full of dildos? But of course. Adams relates his unsavory experiences in monologue, occasionally breaking into character as one or other of his clients, a la Fully Committed. There are also a handful of occupation-specific patter songs like “There’s a Hair.” Dressed in his work garb of tee shirt and shorts, his swollen knees are testament to his cleaning craftwork.
There is a melancholy side to the tale as well. One does not venture into the dwellings of NYC in the early 90’s without encountering the specter of AIDS and any number of untreated psychological disorders. Adams saw more than his share. One encounter with a young, dying woman who would not get out of bed is particularly touching, and makes me wish that the framework of the show had been more tightly constructed. There is the potential for poignancy here, and moments when Adams almost manages the keen trick of having the audience see themselves in the people he worked for, but the parade of wacky characters tends to march off with the focus.
Adams’ stage presence is not quite as glowing as his floors. This would not be a problem except for two bothersome elements that made it quite pronounced. One was that he sometimes struggled to remember his lines which, if it’s your own life story you’re telling, is especially distracting. And secondly, he was joined on stage by two very charismatic assistants. Pianist Matt Casarino had a constant gleeful look in his eyes, and his musical companion, Jill Knapp, sat beside him, just reading along with the script with the most expressive face imaginable. She wore blue and white saddle shoes that matched her two-tone hair.
And talk about burying the lede, during a quiz segment where the audience tries to guess the identity of some of his celebrity clients, Adams reveals that he was the cleaning guy for Agnes de Mille in her last days. It’s evident that Adams knows his musical theater, but he apparently didn’t know what would have made for an amazing one-man show of its own, had he exploited that particular relationship. Instead, poor Agnes is swept off into his cadre of comically creepy annoyances.
The Cleaning Guy – Written and performed by Paul Adams; Directed by Melissa Attebery.
Music by Paul Adams and Matt Casarino. Stage management by Elizabeth Ramsay. Emerging Artists Theatre at the New York International Fringe Festival. The Huron Club, 15 Vandam St. http://www.thecleaningguy.nyc Through August 24. Running time: 1 hour.