Say Seaboy, You Sissy Boy?
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
July 31, 2008
Say Seaboy, You Sissy Boy? is the arrestingly-titled new work-in-progress by Kenny Mellman. He's performing it in the HOT! Festival at Dixon Place in a bare-bones presentation—just him at the piano; that's it—that gives audiences a first look at what feels like an important new piece of musical theatre and gives Mellman a chance to experiment, hone, and develop something that feels close to his heart. A very worthwhile endeavor, this.
The show takes the shape of a chamber musical or maybe a song cycle, but if Mellman chooses to fill it out with more performers it could turn into an intimate moving rock musical along the lines of Passing Strange. There are several terrific songs in the score, including two deceptively simple pieces that kind-of bookend the show, both called "Allen's Song" (#1 and #2), and the haunting title song, which really surprised me with its emotional punch.
The story is principally about Allen Schindler, an American navy officer who was killed in a public bathroom in Japan in 1992 by two of his shipmates, who beat him to death because he was gay. Schindler was 22. Mellman relates, in quick snatches of song and text, Schindler's saga, from a kid in Chicago dealing with troubled parents to a young navy man shunned by apparently everyone else on his ship. He quotes the actual testimony of the young men who killed Schindler at the climax of the show; this material is so powerful that focus temporarily shifts from the play's gay protagonist to a consideration of the deep, terrible rage that must have been festering inside Schindler's attackers and where such anger comes from.
But Say Seaboy, You Sissy Boy? is more broadly about homophobia, and how it has forced gay relationships and interactions into the margins and shadows of society. Mellman says in the program that he's exploring the relationship between gay history and the public bathroom, and though that feels like the punchline of a joke, it's not. Much of the material in the show is personal and all of it is heartfelt.
The folks at Dixon Place tell me that the show is evolving every night. I think this can become something very special and I hope Mellman will continue to work on it, throughout the HOT! Festival and beyond.