Steven is a difficult man to get a hold of, especially if you’re his parents, wife, or boyfriend and you have something very serious to tell him. This new musical from Jye Bryant centres an absent character in a story about the heartbreak, betrayal, and secrets that those closest to him just don’t know how to put into words.
Steven has just gotten married to his fiancée (Julia Hyde), whom his mother (Suzanne Chin) hates, but he’s back in a secret relationship with his ex (Joey Sheehan), and his father (Tim Martin) is worried he’s running out of time to be honest with his son. The overlapping and complicated ways we communicate, or more often don’t, in our relationships is the driving force of this new musical. In each of the solo songs, the characters must consider why they are keeping their secrets and how to move forward while they feel misunderstood and ignored.
The structure of this musical means the majority of songs are solos sung by the characters about themselves and their feelings towards Steven over the course of two years. This tends to give the production the feel of a cabaret, with each actor airing their perspective and then retreating with little interaction or engagement between story lines. Choreography from co-director Katherine Nheu kept the action from becoming too static and maintained the musical theatricality.
Characterisation of the four relations to Steven relies heavily on tropes to fill-out complicated histories quickly: the controlling and hysterical mother who’s jealous of the wife, the lonely and drunk bride, the emotional stunted father, and the oversexed hook-up focused ex. This reliance on clear and formulaic roles does a disservice to the nuance of communication and understanding that the script is trying to unravel in this production because it comes across as reductive. Somewhat surprisingly, however, the ex-boyfriend turned lover, played by Sheehan, undergoes the most complete character arc, concluding with a new-found sense of self and a healthy perspective on his relationship with Steven.
Bryant’s music established a playful atmosphere early in the piece and was well played by musical director and co-director Ghassan Kassisieh. Lyrics and melodies payed homage to a number of favourite songs and musicals including Company and remixes of “Happy Birthday” and the wedding march. Chin’s in particular was a powerful vocal talent with a classical style that somewhat differed from the more relaxed styles of the other actors. Her talent could have been much better served without the deeply misogynistic number “Now, the Bitch is His Wife”.
The things that go unsaid in a relationship sometimes have more bearing than the things a couple share. For the people in Steven’s life, the secrets and hurts they have kept to themselves have greatly impacted on their conception of him. Perhaps as he makes his feelings known to them, they will follow suit.
The Things I Could Never Tell Steven is running at Limelight on Oxford from February 20 – March 2nd as part of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.