Sammy Gets Mugged!
nytheatre.com review by Danny Bowes
August 15, 2011
The title Sammy Gets Mugged! also doubles as the entire story of the play, in which playwright/actor Dan Heching recounts an incident in which the title character, a young, privileged white man, is relieved of $250 by a large black mugger. The incident itself, while frightening for Sammy, is more embarrassing than damaging, seemingly—the mugger even advises Sammy to recover the lost cash with an insurance claim—though Sammy attempts to redeem what he feels to be insufficient victimhood through embroidering his memories to include violence that may or may not have really happened. In the process, along with the subjectivity and willful embellishment of human memory, the play also deals with themes like liberal white guilt about racism, homophobia, and manhood.
It's a thought-provoking play, and a rarely candid take on racial and sexual stereotypes, though frequently very academic and cerebral in places. When Heching the playwright starts wandering into thorny, impenetrable forests of psychology and philosophy, questioning the subjectivity of existence itself, Heching the actor—as Sammy—helps keep the audience engaged. He's a very engaging performer, and doesn't tie himself in knots trying to appear to be a nice guy: Sammy has a petulantly vindictive streak that isn't especially attractive, but wins points for its total honesty, as does his having the stones to openly tell the extremely homophobic mugger he finds him attractive (avatar of his subconscious desire to make the incident bigger than it was or not, or Stockholm syndrome, or whatever, that takes guts).
The other two members of the cast (not counting Hanley Smith's occasionally amusing voice performance as an ATM) are extraordinary. Patrick Byas's performance as the mugger is pretty magnificent, really; he's equally adept at portraying the stereotypical bogeyman figure of the mugger and the verbose reluctant participant in Sammy's obsessive myth-making and dwelling on the mugging. He's a vivid stage presence, and truly excellent in this role.
The same can be said of Stephanie Pope Caffey, as a witness to the mugging, who takes on great symbolic meaning to both Sammy and the mugger. She's utterly magnetic, giving a large performance that is nonetheless not the slightest bit overdone, even though if you stop to think about it, she's playing a completely imaginary character. Her purpose is mainly to highlight how little Sammy actually knows about black people and how much that little is shaped by popular entertainment—thus the mugger being scary, and the woman being supernatural, wise, and cheerful—and once it becomes clear that this is deliberate, it becomes clear that Sammy Gets Mugged! knows full well that it doesn't have any answers to its provocative questions.
Let that not be read as saying that this play and its author have nothing to say. It has plenty to say about the subjectivity of memory, the impossibility of truly knowing the Other, the complexity of identity. With all of this heady rumination taking place, the play feels slightly longer than its actual running time of an hour, but then again, it's fitting that a play about the subjectivity of memory seem to take a different amount of time than it actually does. This play is definitely recommended to theatergoers who are willing to accept that Sammy may not have been mugged at all (even though the play is based on a true story) and that all is illusory; it's certainly not mindless summer entertainment, of that much, at least we can be certain.