Why "The Me Nobody Knows" Is Still Relevant Today
By Emily Schweich, junior broadcast journalism major at the University of Maryland.
To truly appreciate The Me Nobody Knows, one needs to understand where it came from.
The musical is based on the 1969 book The Me Nobody Knows: Children’s Voices from the Ghetto, which compiles the voices of 200 students from Harlem. Teachers encouraged these students, who were between the ages of 12 and 18, to write down their deepest thoughts, fears and concerns. The book’s editor, Stephen M. Joseph, asked his students to respond to four dimensions of their identity – how they see themselves, their neighborhoods, the world outside, and the things they can’t see or touch.
The result: A moving collection of young people’s voices that was adapted into a musical by Robert Livingston, Gary William Friedman, Will Holt and Herb Schapiro in 1970. Alvin Mayes and Scot Reese, co-directors of the School of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies’ production, have situated these teenagers in a church basement, in a therapy/support group of sorts.
Many things have changed since The Me Nobody Knows first premiered in 1970, but the anguish of adolescence is timeless, and many issues these teens faced, like racism and poverty, remain relevant.
As dramaturg Cindy King writes in the program notes, The Me Nobody Knows reminds us that “there is still, and perhaps there always will be, work to be done.”
The support that these twelve students give each other, though, isn’t always verbal. The musical feels less like a conversation than a collection of interlocking monologues, punctuated with hugs, gestures of consolations, songs and loosely choreographed dance numbers.
The original instrumentation was reduced to three guitars and a piano, with occasional bursts of saxophone and trombone. Cast members played their own instruments, giving the musical numbers a folksy, mellow feel. The vocals were raw and emotionally-charged, especially in “How I Feel,” a duet between estranged lovers Catherine (Noelle Roy) and Carlos (Tiziano D’Affuso). Other standouts included Noah Israel as Lloyd, who gave a moving account of the first time he tried heroin, and Christopher Lane as Clorox, whose gritty “What am I?” soliloquy about his identity as a black man still felt fresh today.
The set, designed by April Joy Tritchler, perfectly situates the church in an urban street, surrounded by imposing metal fences and graffitied brick walls. Projected words and images, designed by Hannah Marsh, included newspaper headlines about the Ferguson protests and added a dash of contemporary relevance.
Many things have changed since The Me Nobody Knows first premiered in 1970, but the anguish of adolescence is timeless, and many issues these teens faced, like racism and poverty, remain relevant. As dramaturg Cindy King writes in the program notes, The Me Nobody Knows reminds us that “there is still, and perhaps there always will be, work to be done.”