Presented by La MaMa E.T.C. in association with Ma-Yi Theater Company at The Club at La MaMa E.T.C., 74A E. Fourth St., NYC, Nov. 4-21.
Should Café Carlyle finally be forced to find a replacement for Bobby Short, it might well consider Nicky Paraiso. Whether Paraiso, a longtime fixture on the New York downtown theatre scene, would relish the job remains to be seen. However, when Paraiso, in his solo show "House/Boy, " sits down at the piano to play and sing from a versatile repertoire ranging from the goopy '40s pop hit "Faraway Places" to Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson's iridescent "It Never Was You," it's cabaret performance of a high order. He stirs a soupçon of downtown edginess into a distinctive blend of artful musicianship and uptown elegance.
Paraiso's show is more than cabaret, though. It's the third in a series of pieces he's written and performed dealing with his life as a first-generation Filipino-American. In this installment, Paraiso tells how, as a tot, he escaped the feeling of being an outsider growing up in Queens through music. But the main focus is split—perhaps a bit awkwardly but not damagingly so—between his search for a role model in popular culture and his relationship with his parents, most particularly his father.
The rare role models he finds are in two arcane movie performances by Filipinos. His obsession with them ignites some amusing riffs.
Paraiso's relationship with his father is more complex. When his homesick mother returned to the Philippines, Paraiso's father remained behind as caretaker of the family house in Queens, seen as a legacy for their only son. But it's only after his father's death that Paraiso realizes his debt to the man.
This all could seem therapeutic indulgence, but under Ralph B. Peña's direction, Paraiso infuses his tale with arresting objectivity, humor, and acting prowess. When, in long passages, he portrays both his mother and father, the characters vividly take stage, adding to the piece's valid emotionality.