BWW Review: It's a One-Man METHTACULAR! Indeed
The doors outside About Face & Justin Brill's production of METHTACULAR! should warn audiences of the show's nudity.
Ok, not nudity nudity, but after seeing the utter openness and vulnerability in Steven Strafford's one-man production of his "drug addled, sex crazed life," the word 'bare' certain comes to mind. Currently opening About Face's 2014-2015 season, Strafford puts it all out there for everyone to see in this emotional roller coaster, and the result is a highly entertaining and cathartic evening.
Born and raised in New Jersey, the majority of performer and playwright Steven (Michael) Strafford's story of sex, methamphetamine addiction, and connection in the gay community takes place in Chicago in the early 2000's. Under the keen direction of Adam Fitzgerald, Strafford keeps the 90-minute performance at a heightened but never frantic or out-of-control pace. He roams every corner of David L. Arsenault's very Chicago-looking metropolitan apartment set, as if he and the audience have been long-time friends. Strafford's ability to welcome you into his world, his vernacular, and his journey allows for the strong connection needed to want him to want to get better.
Strafford epitomizes the skill needed in producing a successful one-man performance. He is charming, engaging, and tosses in enough theatrical and pop-culture allusions to make Angela Landsbury's head spin. ("Yes! Yes!") He's quick and smart, but manages to not let those who aren't catching all the jokes to feel too far behind or left out. For as soon as he's recounting a seat-shiftingly unsettling encounter with a cat-loving crystal meth dealer, he's side-barring to his disdain of the use of crass, non-medical words for the male anatomy. Laughter, gasps, and tears come quick - and the moments when Strafford experiences a new drug's high are truly startling thanks to Fitzgerald and lighting designer Sarah Hughey smart yet simple staging.
Under John McDaniel's music supervision, local accompanist Charlotte Rivard-Hoster joins Strafford on-stage throughout the evening, giving a wry mid-show bit and wonderfully plunking away at Wade Elkins' original songs. The songs, although not as strong as Strafford's quite moments, allow TV-special levity amidst heavy tales of Jimmy's drug den, Ed's Ukrainian roommate, or unexpected encounters in local bath houses.
With its heavy dose of allusions and frank subject matter, METHTACULAR! - a title which I still don't 100% love - may not be everyone's ideal night out. But if you're in the mood to experience an evening of brutal honesty and learning when to walk on & when to walk away, catch this Chicago premiere from a truly talented adopted son.
METHTACULAR! runs now through September 28, 2014 at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave. Tickets are available at www.aboufacetheatre.com, by calling (773) 975-8150, or in person at the Theater Wit Box Office.
Photo by Michael Brosilow