BWW Review: Book-it's Raw Look at Opioid Addiction in AMERICAN JUNKIE
With any luck most of us will bypass any connection to opioid or heroin addiction. I know going into Book-It Repertory Theatre's current production of Tom Hansen's "American Junkie", I knew nothing of that world except what you might catch on TV. But what this gritty memoir and gripping performances do is give a much more intense and visceral look into this world while still mixing in humor and hope making this a fascinating ride.
The story looks at author Hansen's (played by Ian Bond) journey during the grunge era in Seattle as he dives into drug binge after drug binge, sometimes getting clean but then going right back to chasing that high while also selling it to others until the high takes him over so viciously that he can't even move from his bed from the many sores and wounds resulting from his injections sites. This harrowing tale, as adapted by Jane Jones and Kevin McKeon and directed by Jones brilliantly weaves through his history starting you off at two different points in time, one very low and one higher and full of hope; switching back and forth until we come full circle at the end.
This is not a show you can really say you enjoyed but you can definitely say you appreciate as the journey is rough and often times quite graphic. But it's to the credit of Jones and the amazing ensemble and crew that they can pull it off so gracefully. The minimalist set from Catherine Cornell will fool you as there are so many twists and turns it can take becoming so many different locales with ease especially when coupled with Tristan Roberson's fantastic lighting design. Both elements set the moods so well that you actually think you're right there with Hansen in the drug den or on the street or in the hospital. And the staging from Jones keeps the switches from time to time, location to location so seamless and diverse that it never becomes static.
The ensemble of Jesica Avellone, Hazel Rose Gibson, Tim Gouran, Brian Gunter, and Marco Adiak Voli are incredibly tight and a well-oiled machine as they play multiple characters in Hansen's life. Switching from family to doctors to fellow addicts with the switch of a coat or hat, each persona is so individual and distinct. But it's Bond they all revolve around as he has to carry the show and carry it he does even though he plays it off at times that he can't even carry himself. His transformations within the piece are stunning as we watch his health wax and wane as we go back and forth in his timeline and with each shift you're never confused as to which stage he might be in. And his grasp on the character is incredibly raw and vulnerable making this an amazing performance that begs to be seen.
This made it onto my Top Ten shows I was excited to see this season and it did not disappoint. And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give Book-It Repertory Theatre's production of "American Junkie" a "you may leave uncomfortable, but you'll leave enlightened" YAY. This is a world I personally knew nothing about and after seeing this, I'm glad for the path I landed on.
"American Junkie" from Book-It Repertory Theatre performs at the Center Theatre through March 10th. For tickets or information contact the Book-It box office at 206-216-0833 or visit them online at www.book-it.org.