We encounter the statistics almost daily now: opioid addiction is killing far too many of us. But statistics, as I once heard someone say, never made anyone change their understanding or their life. Stories do that, and in the face of the crisis, we’ve been hearing more of them, both true and invented. Local playwright and physician, Hal J. Cohen, consulted with present and former addicts, and those close to them, for his fictional “dark comedy” Intervention, which he also directs and produces (with On A Dare Productions). The show, billed as a “dark comedy,” is onstage at the Portland Ballet Studio Theater.
Our story begins as two quirky young people, Sam (Aileen Andrews) and Dennis (Tom Campbell), meet cute in Golden Gate Park – she in a Batman t-shirt, him in Superman. Sam is smart, sarcastic, and coy, and Andrews gives her both a spunky edge and a sympathetic vulnerability and openness. Dennis is a charismatic but idiosyncratic young guy whose conversation jitters and veers, and he is noticeablycagey about the bag from which he pulls some Oreos to share and bicker adorably about with Sam. By the time he jokes warily, “I’m not that clean, but I sure am…squeaky,” we suspect it is Dennis who has the problem with the needle.Portraying him, Campbell makes marvelous work of his careening patter, creating beats of nuance and humor ineach infinitesimal pause or pursing oflips. These moments help us connect to a comedic but erratic character whose tics, arrogance, and Wikipedia-derived knowledge base keeps us somewhat at a distance, even as Sam falls for him immediately.
Meanwhile, we learn about the fraught sisterhood of Sam, the youngest; Mel (Sarah Barlow), the unyielding eldest; and sweet, vivacious Terry (Anna Gravél). As the sisters gather for their mother’s funeral and, later, visit Mel and Dennis, they battle over family history, old gripes, and, eventually, Dennis. Andrews, Barlow, and Gravél conjure a very true and recognizable teeter between sisters’ tetchiness, resentment, and intimacy, and we can also sense the tremor of something yet unsaid between them. Cohen gives them many sisterly antics to perform; much of itis funny, dynamic, and true to any sisters’ inevitable regressions, though we hear perhaps more and longer of their banter than exposition and characterization demand.
The same could be said of the script as a whole; relative to the powerful central story of addiction and its effects, there may be more time than necessary spent on the otherwise admirably specific and tangible means of character establishment – how people eat Oreos or fold clothes. And between the lovers’ meet-cute and the initial background on the sisters’ family, it takes some time to get to the actual meat of the conflict of addiction.
Heroin itself is first visible onstage (along with Dennis’s shockingly unapologetic attitude toward using it) closer to the end of the play than the beginning, and we might be drawn even more into the horrorof Dennis’s crisis if we were to spend more time with the problem as Sam herself is drawn into his world. Deep in the clutches of the drug, Campbell does compelling work conveyingthe nature of withdrawal – slouching in nausea, crawling inside his own shirt and hiding his head. He peppers humor deftly into Dennis’s fatal arrogance about his agency in the face of the drug, even as he also makes physical and visceral the young man’s tragedy.
Finally, the intervention of the title, enacted by a burly character named Will (a mesmerizing, gruffly rhapsodic Steve Leighton),takes an unexpected form – a third act of interestingly, even jarringly different style, tone, and perspective.Though the power of Intervention might be intensified by further narrative honing and focus, Cohen’s fictional story of addiction leaves no doubt about the stakes in the real world.
Intervention | Written and directed by Hal J. Cohen; Produced by On A Dare Productions and Hal J. Cohen | Through Sep 24 | Portland Ballet Studio Theater, 517 Forest Ave., Portland | Thu-Sat 7:30 pm; Sun 2 pm | $18 | https://on-a-dare-productions.ticketleap.com
- Published in Theater