Unconventional, moving and endearing
|About Face Theatre (in association with Justin Brill) presents|
Review by Lauren Whalen
Steven Strafford (please don’t call him Steve) is likable and sweet. He’s the gay best friend that naïve straight girls dream of, with a selection of DVDs that includes “Moulin Rouge,” and an ebullient, friendly persona that lights up the stage at Theater Wit. Formerly based in New York, Strafford has an acting career that’s taken him to Vegas, Europe and Asia. He is also a recovering crystal meth addict, and would like to tell you about it – in song. The Chicago premiere of Strafford’s one-man show Methtacular! is like no drug-addiction story I’ve ever seen. Through comedy, music and storytelling, Strafford deftly paints a picture of a harrowing three-year affair with a deadly substance.
Strafford moved to Chicago in the late 1990’s, still “technically” a virgin, with the existential angst and confusion typical of young twentysomethings. Strafford tells of his introduction to meth, via a hookup he met through a singles phone line advertised in “The Reader”. (Though Methtacular! has played successfully in New York, Portland and Cincinnati, the local references are a special plus for Chicago audiences.) Throughout the next three years, Strafford would lose at least two acting jobs, as well as his memory for days at a time. He’d shoot up and hook up in dirty, infested locations without a care for anything except his next high. And like every other addict, Strafford had to reach his personal rock bottom and fight his way back up.
In many ways, Methtacular! is a typical tale of addiction; however, the production’s format and personal touches are what make it unique, truly engaging and endearing. Strafford, along with composer William TN Hall and director Adam Fitzgerald, have thoroughly infused the story with unique touches. David L. Arsenault’s scenic design evokes a simple living room, complete with bookshelf, DVD’s and a flat-screen TV that plays some of the production’s most harrowing moments: clips of Strafford’s mother as she recounts, with increasing broken-voiced hesitation, witnessing her son’s descent at family gatherings and through rushed phone calls. A red-and-gold spangled curtain that Strafford frequently uses as a backdrop, gives a 1980’s TV special flair that’s a lot of fun, and audience members may find themselves onstage, participating in a hilarious game show spoof.
Accompanied by the gifted and game Charlotte Rivard-Hoster, Strafford delivers quippy ditties on sharing his drug dealer boyfriend with a Ukranian Orthodox deacon (yes, you heard that right) and guilt-tripping a cheating lover by warbling carefully selected classic tunes in the shower. Methtacular! is lighthearted and silly – until it isn’t, and the audience realizes the darkness has been building all along. Because no matter how it’s presented, addiction is terrifying, nasty and often fatal. Strafford not only understands this, he lived it. He can laugh about it now, but he remembers the bad decisions, the close calls, the desperation. He confesses to the audience that he will likely want to use every day for the rest of his life.
During the show’s lovely closing song, amid several audience member sniffles, Strafford confesses that he wanted to tell his story his way: in song. I could not only respect this decision, I could relate. Though I’ve never even tried crystal meth, I lost a friend to suicide two years ago and quickly found that the only way I could begin to make sense of it, was to write about my newfound obsession with a Christian radio DJ (I’m agnostic) and how listening to light rock and platitudes was an unlikely source of comfort in the face of grief. Though I’ve never met Strafford, I felt a connection with him while watching Methtacular! He never downplays the seriousness of meth addiction – in fact, by incorporating plenty of humor, he heightens it.
Methtacular! continues through September 28th at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont (map), with performances Wednesdays-Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sundays 4pm. Tickets are $35 (students/seniors $20), and are available by phone (773-975-8150) or online through TheaterWit.org (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at AboutFaceTheatre.com. (Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission)
Photos by Michael Brosilow
behind the scenes
Adam Fitzgerald (director), William TN Hall (original music and arrangements), Wade Elkins (original music), David L. Arsenault (scenic design), Sarah Hughey (lighting design), Paul Perry (sound design), Aaron Rhyne (projections design), Jill Yetsky (stage manager), Gordon Granger (technical director), John Kelly (master electrician), Justin Brill (producer), John McDaniel (music supervision and arrangements), Michael Brosilow (photos)