Blown Sideways Through Life

A self-described "misfit in Flatbush" who once spent $ 100 for a pair of lime-green platform shoes, Claudia Shear has held 64 jobs. No. 65 is "Blown Sideways Through Life," her freewheeling and mostly engaging account of a life that has taken her from restaurant kitchens to cosmetics counters and from an artist's salon to the front room of an East Side whorehouse.

A self-described “misfit in Flatbush” who once spent $ 100 for a pair of lime-green platform shoes, Claudia Shear has held 64 jobs. No. 65 is “Blown Sideways Through Life,” her freewheeling and mostly engaging account of a life that has taken her from restaurant kitchens to cosmetics counters and from an artist’s salon to the front room of an East Side whorehouse.

A zaftig blonde with long ringlets, expressive hands and a Kewpie Doll smile that can switch to a sinister glower, Shear launches her 65-minute monologue from a model’s reclining pose, with a litany of details about waitressing, answering phones for call girls and modeling.

To some well-trod territory she brings a stream-of-consciousness energy that recalls Kerouac and a startling gift for mimicry (along with persuasive French and Italian accents).

As the title implies, “Blown Sideways Through Life” is primarily a sentimental resume, though as developed by the author with director Christopher Ashley (who directed the similarly gifted Anna Deavere Smith in “Fires in the Mirror”), some of the edges have thankfully been roughened. There are extended sections on the brothel period, on being fat — literally a misfit, she says, when nothing fits — and on a hilarious 28-day Outward Bound trip to Hurricane Island. A tidy moral –“Everyone has a story that would stop your heart”– sews things up.

Shear’s gifts as a performer aside, “Blown Sideways” often struck me more as a piece of literature than as a script. The writing is undercut by calling out lighting cues and posing on Loy Arcena’s intriguing, expressionist set (a red curtain and a steel ladder frame a door laid flat for use as a table, with a suggestion of blue sky at the rear).

But in the show’s last quarter, Shear pulls it all together, closing with a touching little dance of ecstasy that suggests, if not triumph (for this life is clearly a work in progress), then a hearty optimism. And it works.

Blown Sideways Through Life

New York Theater Workshop; 150 seats; $25 top

Production: A New York Theater Workshop presentation of a performance work in one act written and performed by Claudia Shear. Directed by Christopher Ashley.

Creative: Set, Loy Arcenas; costume, Jess Goldstein; lighting, Christopher Akerlind; sound, Aural Fixation; original music, Richard Peaslee; choreography, Nafisa Sharriff; production stage manager, Kate Broderick. James C. Nicola, artistic director; Nancy Kassak Diekmann, managing director. Opened Sept. 21, 1993; reviewed Sept. 20.

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