Robert Maril, Casey McClellan, and Dayna Dantzler in HELLO, MY NAME IS BILLY.
BOTTOM LINE: A very talented cast of actors/muscians bring to life the story of Billy, a gay drug addict.
“Hello, my name is Billy” is how the title character of the work by the same name starts out each Chapter at various rehabs and support groups as he battles his drug addiction.
Billy (played by the very likeable Casey McClellan) is affable and attractive enough to meet various partners in crime, but thoroughly unable to stop the vicious cycle of his drug addiction. Billy is also gay and finds difficulty reconciling his sexuality with his Midwestern upbringing.
Staged in the manner similar to the 2009 musical Passing Strange, by director Tim Aumiller (also one of the co-authors) Billy along with four other very talented performers/musicians tells his story in six chapters which each contain a separate narrative of his drug addiction. These include Barry (crack); Athena (cocaine); his dying Father (pills); New York City (ecstasy, crystal meth, and ketamine); and Leonard (huffing). As with many drug addicts the chapters become repetitive: Billy meets someone who innocently and casually introduces him to a new drug and his life spirals downward until he comes clean only to repeat the cycle again.
The supporting cast is exceptional, effortlessly playing many different characters while also supplying the musical accompaniment on a wide range of instruments. Dayna Dantzler stands out as all of the female characters, although pianist Scott Schneider (also a co-author) delivers a hysterical portrayal of Tina, Billy’s suburban sister.
Hello, My Name Is Billy is an ambitious work and the music by Aumiller and Schneider is catchy and tuneful, but it is hard to watch Billy repeatedly make poor decisions and not even attempt to learn from them. The musical numbers are electric most often when Billy is high, for example with the song “Razor Blade,” in which Billy and Athena (Dantzler) are doing cocaine off of a growing razor blade. But where the music soars is where the book comes across as almost celebrating drug addiction. A tough pill to swallow (pun intended).
Make no mistake — it is admirable that the creators did not choose the traditional narrative of a drug addict reaching rock bottom and finding salvation and sobriety. Yet it is a very strange experience to behold someone so unapologetically continue to relapse and relapse and relapse. This is particularly troubling towards the end where Billy has been clean for two years and winds up relapsing and engaging in casual drug-fueled sex. I am not puritanical enough to be unaware of the hardship of drug addiction and the casualness with which many (particularly within the LGBT community) abuse drugs recreationally; but it just didn’t sit right with me that this very well-performed work so seemed to glorify disregarding the struggle. And if this disregard wasn't clear enough during the production, the chosen exit music was "Rehab" the hit song in which Amy Winehouse declares her disdain for drug rehabilation. Winehouse of course died last month after many years of struggling with drugs at the age of 27.
(Hello, My Name Is Billy plays at Le Poisson Rouge, 158 Bleecker Street, through August 24, 2011. Remaining performances are Saturday, August 20th at 2PM; Wednesday, and August 24th at 9:15PM. Tickets are $15 and are available at fringenyc.org. For more show info visit nohopeproductions.com. For more info about FringeNYC visit fringnyc.org.)