Writer/performer Sean Neely finally stages the one-man show about pedophilia that the Fringe Festival refused to present last year, triggering a lawsuit by the performance provocateur. Once titled “Having Sex With Children in My Brain,” this is a study in theatrical manipulation. When Neely first walks onstage, in dress shirt and shorts, he shows us a scar from an operation, ostensibly to warn us that we might hear it flaring up. But really, he wants to elicit audience sympathy.
Sitting cross-legged on a chair on a bare stage, he puts one in mind of Spalding Gray, on discount. An unaffected monologist, Neely (or his character, anyway) spends most of the 40-minute show reading biographical information from a script — about his two sons, his childhood in Texas, his spells as a starving actor and his sympathetic wife. He mixes in stories of attraction to boys and wanting to please men. He says he’s coming out of the shadows with his desires, which he hasn’t acted on, and wants to be accepted. He says he knows it may cost him his life — drawing a comparison to Jesus — but he is willing to be a martyr.
You are not quite sure what is real, and what is not, as he reads to the audience in a deadpan voice. A production of Shakespeare, say, is clearly a work of fiction. A confessional monologue is presented as truth, even if it is with a wink and a nod. As a stage piece, “Sean Neely” is flip and unsatisfying, although he clearly had supporters at Thursday’s opening performance. While it taps the power of theater to create dialogue around tough subjects, it also blurs the lines of reality. Neely seems to be using theater as a cover for a repugnant point of view. (8:30 p.m. Fri., 8:30 p.m. Sat., 1 p.m. Sun., 7 p.m. Mon., Phoenix Theater, 2605 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls.)