Hello, My Name Is Billy
nytheatre.com review by Saviana Stanescu
August 13, 2011
A charming drug and sex addict is the protagonist of this unapologetic chamber musical starring Casey McClellan in the role of a self-destructive Kansas boy named—of course—Billy, who manages to make us care about him even as he sinks lower and lower towards the rocky bottom of substance abuse.
Billy has something from all of us, he’s the boy next door or a friend from high school, a charismatic yet shy and troubled young man who can’t be who he really is in the homophobic community he happens to live in so he welcomes the crumbs of joy and satisfaction that drugs and wild friends might bring.
He gets introduced to sex and crack on his 18th birthday, a “present” offered by his lingerie-loving recently divorced older co-worker (Aaron Kliner, who also plays Billy's father). Then, in college, at Kansas State University, a powerhouse of a girl, Athena (the amazing big-voiced Dayna Dantzler), pushes him towards pot, coke and acid. The two spend days and nights in Athena’s off-campus apartment, ignoring the letters from the concerned faculty and family. But his dad has a terminal disease, so Billy is stuck back home to care for his father. Such a depressing time can’t be bearable without the pills he newly finds: OxyContin, another super-high-flying drug. And tender Frank is there too, ready to do anything for his lovely boyfriend, including supplying him with pills from the pharmacy he works for. Boredom and monogamy are not for Billy though. He’s actually always had sex when he was high, he can’t go on without a little bump, a little shot, a little scuba diving into the psychedelic ocean. He ends up in New York where Scott (a very talented and versatile Robert Maril) introduces him to the Big Apple’s nightlife and to the Alphabet City of drugs: E, Special K, GHB, etc.
The dramatic frame of the show consists of a series of 12-step meetings where Billy makes confessions, struggling to get cleaned up. And he even does so for a while. But sober Billy is not fun anymore, he’s just the friend nobody wants to see around or invite to parties, so here we go again: Billy needs just a little bump to go on living. The addiction-carousel is ready to go round.
The story seems a little repetitive though, and we would feel a little antsy if the music weren’t so engaging and the performers so strong. Plus, luckily, writers Tim Aumiller and Scott Schneider bring humor to the characters and lyrics, and the ensemble is energetic and hilariously campy. The performers even participate in creating the music by playing various instruments that appropriately include bottles of pills.
However, I wish we could get more insight into Billy’s emotional life. We only get a glimpse of it in a childhood episode revealed towards the end of the show. A 10-year-old bully forces Billy to get high together on duster sprayed in a bag. The tough boy from a dysfunctional family keeps calling Billy “faggot” but seeks his company daily and wouldn’t admit he was crying when they had to part, so he punched Billy. In this scene we finally learn that this is a world where people can’t be who they really are. The community/society imposes on them hypocritical rules of behavior, so the frustration turns into violence, addiction or other forms of alienation.
It’s not so bad for everybody, of course, but for our—by now so dear—Billy. And even he comes to terms with his addiction, his own form of heroism being to keep going, to face people everyday with a boyish smile and a “Hello, my name is Billy.” Maybe someone will really want to know him. There is still hope. Hello.