Written by Colin Summers; Music by Colin Summers and Andrew Eckel;
Lyrics by Steve; Directed by Nessa Norich
Produced by The New York Neo-Futurists
Off Off Broadway, Docu-Musical Solo Show
Runs through 8.22.15
4th St. Theater, 83 East 4th Street
by Keith Paul Medelis on 8.14.15
Colin Summers in Steve. From Instagram.
BOTTOM LINE: An endearing, indelible portrait of a man we barely know.
If you’ve not had the pleasure to see the Neo-Futurists perform, Steve is a solid and worthy introduction. Their flagship endeavor (in a theater that shares a wall with this one) is Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind performing on Fridays and Saturdays at 10:30. In my book, it’s one of the most important pieces of theater in New York. What the Neos capture are truthful, essential, no holds barred ways of telling stories so often lacking from our industry. We build up the next big thing and forget about the core of our making. The Neos never lack a core. It’s the essence of what they do.
Cut to Steve. Two tables of makeshift lumber flank the stage, a semi wrinkled projection screen at center, and several musical instruments are scattered about. An unapologetic extension cord remains tethered to an outlet upstage center for the play's duration (set by Joey Rizzolo.) And we’re met by Colin Summers who is a performer that is the closest to “having a twinkle in his eye” that I have ever seen. Summers charm is absolutely infectious. He can’t help but muster out a bashful smile at an entrance applause normally saved for the elite amongst us. The lights go up and he seems genuinely surprised and thankful that the house is full.
Summers, in typical Neo form, has a true story to tell us. Since 2008 he has been communicating with a man we know only as Steve via his online business Poetry to Music. With booming single digits business from 2006-2008, Summers seems ready to abandon the endeavor of composing music to poetry written by any one who’d like to submit for a small fee. This Steve starts to order up some songs of his own with some unusual lyrics. (We get to sing along to his homage to Microsoft.) Pretty quickly, the emails come racing in. Summers has to set up an entirely separate email account just to forward Steve’s messages to. He tells us the accumulated messages occupy more space than his entire other email account he uses to speak with the entire rest of the world.
The play, directed with careful and unselfconscious ease by Nessa Norich, winds its way along with Summers’ renditions of the songs he wrote for Steve with Steve’s lyrics. This is a man he has not met—and may never. We learn that he lives in Australia, has a family, several rather crazy sounding books (one of which, How to Fail at College, featuring a glorious clip art cover, is passed around the audience), and fancies himself quite the screenwriter.
It becomes increasingly clear that Summers has been engaging with a man with significant mental health issues. And I had a moment near the middle of feeling a bit queasy about the whole thing. Here we are laughing at a man who may actually need some help. Summers even addresses this as Steve seems to be paying him quite a bit of money he does not have in order to have the songs made.
And this is why I’m glad we’re in the hands of the Neo-Futurists and Colin Summers. He is able to navigate this rocky terrain with only earnest honesty. And it begins to seem like a kind of love letter to Steve. Summers reports that he has told Steve about the show though Steve can’t tell anyone in Australia as they’ll assume he has further delusions of grandeur that his songs are being performed in the great city of New York. Though he does have some requests: don’t use his last name, keep it clean, and make people smile.
We, along with Summers, begin to see why this project is such a wonderful idea. In a world of pessimism, denial, and Donald Trump, we need the theater for the sincerity, bravery, and joy it provokes. While we may never filly understand it, like the words of Steve, we need it. We need Steve.
(Steve plays at the 4th Street Theater, 83 East 4th Street, through August 22, 2015. Performances are Mondays through Saturdays at 7:30, with additional performances on Thursdays at 9:30 and Saturdays at 5. Tickets are $16 in advance and $20 at the door and can be purchased online at www.nyneofuturists.org/steve/ or by calling 866.811.4111.)