“Song of Seamus…” A Psychedelic One‑Woman Rock Opera
It’s difficult to imagine a premise more ridiculous than that of “Song of Seamus and the Psychedelic Squirrel.” The show is a one‑woman rock opera set in the 1970s centered on the chaotic lives of a tribe of anthropomorphic woodland creatures fighting desperately to survive in the dangerous, trash‑filled and drug‑ridden animal gangland of Fort Tryon Park – the intro song reminds us, “it’s where the Cloisters are!” It goes without saying that hardly anything in that description makes any sense at all. And yet, filtered through the kaleidoscopic lens of writer and performer Kassi Dougherty, “Song of Seamus” is a hilarious and raunchy delight. After his brother Rory is abducted by a malicious group of cockney, punk‑rock pigeons, Seamus Maclora (a “sexual lightning rod,” according to a groundhog gatekeeper) must travel through enemy territory before the pigeons execute Rory at dawn underneath the George Washington Bridge. He is aided in his quest by a drunk cat and her homeless Vietnam‑veteran toad partner, a southern seagull, and the psychedelic squirrel, the druggie shaman of the park. The crazy world of Fort Tryon Park is brought to life in a series of crayon and marker drawings projected behind Ms. Dougherty throughout the show. The litany of illustrations and musical accompaniments are broken up into short videos, each comically dragged and dropped onto the screen by an ever‑present MacBook cursor. But that rough low‑tech setup does wonders for the grimy world the show establishes. The low production values are icing on the cake. Absurdity is the order of the day in “Song of Seamus,” and the sheer spectacle of it all is the main selling point. The songs, produced and arranged by Jody Shelton, showcase Ms. Dougherty’s impressive range in a surprisingly eclectic musical lineup. From the Jim Morrison‑inspired jazz odysseys of the psychedelic squirrel to the Sex Pistols sound‑alike pigeon band, the setlist of original songs has considerable depth, for all of its 70s stylings. Backing vocals and instruments accompany Ms. Dougherty, who does a commendable job of timing her singing and dialogue to the show’s constant audio accompaniments. The story of “Song of Seamus” can’t keep pace with its far‑out setup and charmingly basic production design. Ms. Dougherty wisely grounds her ludicrous world in a familiar rescue plot, but the execution of that narrative is convoluted and a little sloppy. Most of the show sees Seamus encountering various characters, who pause the action to sing a song about themselves. Story cohesion is often sacrificed for backstory and filler. What narrative arcs the show does establish are often dropped, regardless of how well they’ve been set up. On two separate occasions, Seamus encounters the pigeon gang that kidnapped his brother, but instead of a confrontation, a new character runs onto the stage and diffuses the tension. The pigeons even warn Seamus of an impending clash, destined for the finale, but that climax never comes. Instead, a minor character saves Rory without any input from Seamus. It may seem like an odd nitpick in a show about druggie squirrels trying to one‑up a gang of British pigeons, but when every other aspect of the play is so refreshingly bizarre, one wishes to see “Song of Seamus” stick the landing. It might not open your third eye, but it’s a trip worth taking. “Song of Seamus and the Psychedelic Squirrel” Written and Performed by Kassi Dougherty Oct. 17 at 3:30pm Director: Marcus Bishop-Wright Co-Producer: Brian Barnhart Musical Director: Jody Shelton Photo: courtesy of the production United Solo 2018 Theatre Row 410 West 42nd Street New York City
JAMES BARTHOLOMEW is a writer and musician living in New York City. He is an administrator of the Fordham University Theatre Program and an avid lover of the arts.