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Methtacular (Recommended)

By Rick Pender · May 31st, 2012 · Fringe

Recommended

Steven Strafford is one hell of a performer. But his young adult life as a promiscuous, gay, crystal meth addict was one hell of a mess. He courageously and humorously lays it all out in Methtacular, a monologue of 80 entertaining and unpredictable minutes. His innocent but willing — in fact, enthusiastic — descent into abusive relationships, recreational drugs and self-destruction is framed initially as a kind of self-referential TV “special.”

Strafford is also a talented singer and actor whose stage career was derailed by his lifestyle, so his narrative is full of laugh-out-loud references to musical theater and pop culture. His story, full of anecdotes, sidebars (and sidebars to sidebars) and digressions, chronicles a downward spiral of bad decisions. But they’re showcased and celebrated with such candor, verve and dark humor, at the same time horrifying and hilarious, that you are drawn to him as a likeable guy. You want him to find his way out.

Strafford is performing Methtacular at a lecture hall in the Art Academy of Cincinnati.

It’s a bare-bones production: a high-backed, upholstered chair and a few projections, mostly tongue-in-cheek titles for sections of his performance, but including sad, amateurish video clips of his mom recounting her dismay and disappointment, fretting at his mess of a life. He has a piano accompanist who enhances his songs and provides occasional musical punctuation to his hair-raising tales of years of drugs and denial. At two points he interrupts his personal chronicle to bring forward volunteers (recruited pre-show) for amusing game-show competition, including a funny round of “Math, Meth or Myth?” Ultimately, the show’s success is wholly on Strafford’s shoulders as a solo performer.

He completely and convincingly makes Methtacular work because he tells his story of with an unrestrained and untrammeled joy, making it all the more poignant. He embraced his life of degradation. Even though it nearly destroyed him (his tough-love mom finally provides a lifeline), he fondly recalls an episodic decade of eventful dependence. When his first extended relationship crumbles in unfaithfulness, he channels fierce 1930s screen actress Norma Shearer to perform a scene of wounded power, culminating in a hurried shower sequence where he sings a fast medley of songs culminating in Melissa Manchester’s “Don’t Cry Out Loud,” about hiding your pain. It’s a masterful comic sequence that reveals the complex texture of Strafford’s psyche and his witty storytelling skill.

This is not an easy show to watch as Strafford repeatedly comes to the brink of putting his bad behavior behind him, and then falls back again and again. In one section he emotionally admits that he barely remembers events because of the drugs (early on he quips that “Tuesday plus crystal meth equals Friday”), but he is such a winning stage presence that you’re engaged by his tale and hope he’ll pull his life together. I suspect that assembling this show has been part of his recovery. Methtacular is a “special” that’s definitely worth tuning in to witness.

 
 
 
 

 

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