Hello, My Name Is...
nytheatre.com review by Josephine Cashman
January 13, 2007
In a world where addiction is "the new black," Hello My Name is... is a disappointing shade of gray. Written by Stephanie Rabinowitz, this play is about a small weekly support group for sex addicts. Brash raconteur Sima DeFleur dominates the meetings until one night the cocky (in every conceivable sense of the world) and aggressive Baxter Von Essen joins the group. Everyone's cozy little world is spoiled and people are finally forced to face up to, or flee from, who they are.
I have a sense that this is a play with terrific ideas worth exploring, but that it needs a great deal of work. The set-up takes so long that the payoffs feel hollow, lacking the emotional resonance that the actors (and the writer) are clearly aiming for. At the end, the revelations come so fast and so furiously that it becomes difficult to feel shocked by any of the betrayals and bombshells, leaving the audience more than a bit confused, and somewhat numb. There's not nearly enough time in the play to cover the issues of this motley crew, and many characters are so bombastic and keyed up that we don't get nearly enough of what's hidden underneath.
The cast admirably throws themselves into the fray. First there's Tracy Shar as Faye, who is even addicted to her addiction recovery groups. She mentions going to her OCD and AA meetings, as well as her SAA meeting. Shar is quite touching as "the rich girl with no money."
Jacob Ming-Trent gives a great performance with lovely, quiet, and frank delivery as Moody. As he describes his frustrations with his art, he takes out a cup of paint and half-heartedly tries to color a white toga worn by a masked woman posing onstage. It is a powerful moment, and I wish that the play had more of that kind of intimacy and subtle torment.
Another standout is Jonathan Raviv as Johnny. Johnny's "outing" is both quirky and sad, and his gender issues come to the fore, despite Pretty (Mia Aden)'s almost obvious attempts to keep him, or anyone in the group she runs, from making progress. Aden gamely struggles with the unlikable Pretty, a woman who uses generalized platitudes and animal metaphors to control her group. She is such a lousy leader that it's surprising that no one catches on to her "bottom line" sooner.
As Braxton, Randy Falcon is brash and even somewhat charismatic in that oily, carnie-con-artist kind of way, but his character's misogyny alienates the audience from feeling any kind of sympathy for him, even as he reaches out to the one person whom he thinks can save him from himself. Peter Marsh as Myers, Jackie Burns as Sima round out the seemingly incompatible group.
Lee Douglass has some illustrious moments in his staging and direction. Many of the characters' monologues are performed in spotlight, starkly revealing their sense of isolation. At one point, Braxton derides the members of this SAA group, pretending that their problems are something to be ogled and viewed like a sideshow carnival. Douglass stages this sequence with his cast truly mimicking a sideshow, turning it into a stylized, cartoonish mockery. By itself, the bit is blackly comic and painfully beautiful to watch, but it doesn't stylistically gel with the rest of the play, and clashes with the rest of the story, instead of enhancing it. Douglass's use of blank white masks is captivating, but we never get more than tantalizing glimpses behind many of them.
Ryan Elliot Kravetz's set design is beautiful, with the mismatched chairs both highlighting the misfits in the room, while also being true to the places (basements, churches, under-funded community centers) where many addiction meetings are run. Unfortunately, the lighting by Scott Hay doesn't serve the set or the actors well, and many times the shadows obstruct the audience from seeing what's going on. I suspect that Hay was hindered, though, by the physical limitations of the theatre. Geoffrey Roecker's sound is sometimes too loud, becoming a distraction rather than adding to the emotional tension.
The production itself is remarkable, but the play feels incomplete, making for a frustrating evening where we leave the theatre not truly feeling like we ever learned enough about the characters or what truly makes them tick; their masks remain firmly locked in place.