Steven Strafford probably never imagined when he wrote his autobiographical one-man-play about meth addiction that it would ever serve as escapism. And yet, as a show with a high-quality recording that was prescheduled to run at 16th Street Theater, it became one of the few Chicagoland shows running while the live theatres are closed. 16th Street Theater is preserving what it can of the communal audience experience while streaming the recording, by setting it at certain times and continuing to host talk-backs with Stafford via Zoom. If not the exact live experience. Yet, you too may agree with this reviewer that it’s intimate enough and presented in a way that makes it close.
Strafford’s play is an alternatingly funny and poignant work about another kind of isolation.
A Warm Invitation to a Dark Place
The show opens with Strafford in his cozy apartment, pleased to welcome us as he discourses on the TV Specials he grew up with and the glamor of their actresses. His fondness for Angela Lansbury wasn’t a part of himself he felt he could disclose freely on gay sex phonelines in the early 2000s while looking for drug hook-ups. But he does find their style of anthems to be an appropriately theatrical way of conveying his own first try at an acting career in Chicago. It didn’t go well. Strafford reassures us he isn’t interested in excuses; he was lonely, lacking in self-confidence, and naïve. When the first man he had sex with offered him a drug he’d never heard of, he took it. He liked how it made him feel. Then, he kept looking for it. As a person with an unstable and meager income source, the easiest way to have steady access to drugs was to be the boyfriend of a wealthier addict or dealer.
From his highly engaging performance we see how he got by on his charm, in this writer’s view. His story features a cast of bizarre people whose foibles he wryly describes, including a dealer with a live-in deacon, and the innocent theatre professionals with whom he spectacularly burnt his bridges . He turns his lens back on himself frequently. Interspersed with his narrative are original ballads composed by William TN Hall that could have almost been written for Mama Rose herself. Although a part of Strafford recognized his relationships for what they were, he did enjoy the attention and company enough to develop some attachments to manifestly unhealthy people. Treated less humorously are clips from an interview with his mother, who only received updates about this part of his life through occasional alarming messages and visits.
Strafford’s ability to instantly remake his physicality allows him to not only play the euphoria and self-loathing of drug usage, but also to switch from his current self to himself at twenty-three. The performance struck as so immediate so much of it seems improvised, that many people at the talk-back commented it was easy to forget they were watching a recording.
16th St Theater Provides a Live Remote Presentation
Real life stories don’t follow a neat dramatic arc, and Strafford says near the end of the show that his recovery is a bit of a mystery even to himself. But what we get is still very self-revealing and vulnerable. Thursday and Friday viewers are able to participate in video chats with Strafford. This is a different viewing experience than simply watching a movie; we know we’re seeing a person’s lowest moments as well as his recovery right before we could talk to him, and that does, in this reviewer’s opinion, oblige a viewer to pay attention and root for him. 16th St patrons are already familiar with Strafford’s comedic wit from his play Small Jokes About Monsters. For newcomers in Chicagoland and beyond, Methtacular! is an amazing performance and welcome diversion, and not just because it’s one of the only shows in town.
Written and performed by STEVEN STRAFFORD
Directed by ADAM FITZGERALD
With William TN Hall on piano
Recorded at Steppenwolf’s 1700 Theatre
RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes
Streaming March 19 - April 4, 2020
Thursdays & Fridays @ 7:30,
Saturdays @ 4:00 & 8:00,
Sunday March 29 @ 3:00
In your home on your computer, phone, tablet or Smart TV
About the Author: Jacob Davis
Jacob Davis has lived in Chicago since 2014 when he started writing articles about theatre, opera, and dance for a number of review websites. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Department of Theatre, where he specialized in the history of modernist dramatic literature and criticism. While there, he interned as a dramaturge for Dance Heginbotham developing concepts for new dance pieces. His professional work includes developing the original jazz performance piece The Blues Ain’t a Color with Denise LaGrassa, which played at Theater Wit. He has also written promotional materials for theatre companies including Silk Road Rising.
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