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Editor’s Note: Below you will find an earlier review of PACKING.
“Half of discovering who you are is finding where you belong.”
About Face Theatre features the above line in their marketing materials for this world premiere. It offers the perfect introduction to what audiences are about to see. Solo Performer Scott Bradley invites us to experience his story. His story is not easy. It is a prime example of the work and hardship, though also hope, that can be inescapably connected to self-discovery.
About Face Theatre presents World Premiere of Packing
Written and performed by About Face Theatre Artistic Associate Scott Bradley, Packing is a solo, auto-biographical performance. We take a journey with him back in time – reaching back to his childhood in Iowa, traveling through his challenging post-college years in New York and Seattle, and ending finally in the present. Bradley’s story travels the hardships of assaults, addictions, the plague of the AIDS crisis, as well as the fight for marriage equality – exposing the audience to a tough, but important history. Directed by Victory Gardens Artistic Director Chay Yew, the play is deeply personal, and makes for an emotional roller coaster of a ride from start to finish.
We learn of his father’s gambling and drinking addiction early in the play. This led his father's unexpected need to pick up and leave the family home. It is also when we learn of Bradley’s inner demons – a voice that constantly haunts him, reminding of his failures. He is only eight in this moment of darkness and fear. The voice of his demons chase him and taunt him. He believes he is a burden on his family, and deserves to be left alone. Yew creates this effect through a microphone that projects Bradley’s voice throughout the space--creating an image of Bradley and his inner demons being the same. The voice comes back at multiple points throughout the piece. Each time we see Bradley put himself down. We see how this impacts his identity in the moment. We are overcome with heartbreak.
The production design is simple, allowing the majority of the focus to fall on Bradley and his performance. Yew personally designed the set. It consists of little more than a chair and a projection screen that acts as the floor. Whenever Bradley moves to a different location or key moment in the story, he brings the chair along with him. The floor often changes to a new projection beneath. This collaboration between Yew and Projections Designer Stephan Mazurek, in this writer's view, creates a useful convention that helps us move with Bradley, from moment to moment.
The story takes us to Bradley’s early teenage years – the year he discovered disco. He had difficulty overcoming bullying and ridicule at school, but found comfort in dance lessons, and the friends he made in bringing that expertise to school dances. As Bradley describes the transition and dances about the stage, Mazurek and Lighting Designer Lee Fiskness fill the space with bright, technicolor light, and flashing cubes of color on the screen below. Sound Designer and Composer Eric Backus fills the stage with popular disco music . You too may feel it as an invitation to dance along with the performer. In this writer's view, this stagecraft helps highlight moments of celebration and release that help counter the hardship in Bradley's story. It was not only the mocking he endured at school. At home he had to endure a broken and abusive family.
Yew and Bradley create a performance that is deeply heartfelt and personal. While the story is not always easy to swallow, Bradley connects with us closely. There is very little distance between us and Bradley. We are in an intimate space in which we are not simply observing. Rather, we almost become a character and confidante.
The opening night audience seemed all in--ready to lean into whatever twist and turn came next in the journey. Bradley does not hold back. The story is not always uplifting. He allows us to witness that side of him. We also share in the pain that the hardships he faced clearly caused.
Full of honesty and triumph, Packing is must-see. Yew and Bradley’s collaboration creates an experience that this writer certainly has not stopped thinking about since.
Written and performed by AFT Artistic Associate Scott Bradley
Directed: by Chay Yew
About the Author:
Lauren Katz is a freelance director and dramaturge, and new to the Chicago Theatre Scene. She recently moved from Washington DC, where she worked with Mosaic Theater Company of DC in Company Management, as well as directed around town with various theaters.
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