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Kiss of 'Meth' Writer/performer Strafford on play on addiction
by Tony Peregrin
2014-08-20

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Methtacular!—Steven Strafford's autobiographical account of the three years he spent as a sex-crazed crystal-meth addict in Chicago—is told through a series of stories, songs, and Facts of Life references. But Strafford is not just blowing smoke here; Methtacular! is an authentic, potent, piece of theater that explores addiction in the LGBT community.

After playing to sold-out crowds in New York, Portland and Cincinnati, Methtacular! will open About Face Theatre's 2014-2015 season in Chicago—a full-circle moment for Strafford.

"When About Face Theatre was looking for venues—Theater Wit was mentioned as a possibility, and I remember thinking 'Wouldn't that be crazy?' This is the most dramatically satisfying option because I was fired [from that building] at the end of 2001 or 2002," said Strafford. "My friend David Zak, the director, was really good to me back then, but he had to fire me because I didn't show up for a show because I was on a bender."

"I was living in Edgewater, mostly, and Andersonville," added Strafford. "I was a far north meth addict. I was also homeless, but I still had friends who let me stay with them. And of course, there were the one night stands that turned into three nights."

Today, Strafford lives in Lakeview with his fiancé, Wade. "I came back to Chicago because—outside of being a meth addict and burning bridges here and being a general mess—I love Chicago. It was my first city out of college and I love the theater community here and the way everyone is excited about what is happening on the stage," said Strafford, 36. "I searched for that energy in New York City, and you'll find pockets of it, but it's not the overriding attitude. Chicago is a cooperative theater community, and New York is competitive. It's often difficult to have joy for what others are doing there, even for me, so I left and moved back here last October."

After moving back to the Windy City, Strafford had what he called "full-body reactions" to some familiar haunts. "I remember dropping Wade off at rehearsal [at the Blue Man Group], giving him a nice kiss, and then walking through this parking lot and all of the sudden I was transported back to more than 10 years ago, when I was sitting in a car in that lot with my drug dealer boyfriend's drug supplier, and his boyfriend having a psychotic break down and keying the car and trying to break the windows. I remember thinking 'This isn't what you want' followed closely by 'I wonder when we are going to do drugs again?'' said Strafford.

Strafford didn't set out to write Methtacular! or to tell his stories of being cracked-out on the streets of Chicago before a live audience.

"I had a callback for a production at the Goodman Theatre to play Harpo Marx in Animal Crackers, and I was so emotionally ready for it—and I didn't get the part," said Strafford. "Actors deal with rejection all the time, and I usually shrug it off, but I had done so much emotional work related to getting the role that I just sat in my kitchen and wrote the words 'Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck' over and over again. And then I wrote this line seemingly out of nowhere: 'Imagine in one sniff every physical, emotional and sexual insecurity you've ever had disappears.'"

At that point, Strafford went on a different kind of a bender, and wrote for five hours that day—the stories of his addiction that eventually became the equivalent of a 12-hour show.

"I just started to write it all down," he said. "I have always been a storyteller. Back in my drinking days, I would be the one in the middle of telling a story—and I just started to write my stories in the style of David Sedaris."

Surrounded by actors and other friends he trusted, Strafford read parts of his work aloud as a kind of litmus test to see if the project was worth pursuing, and it was but with a significant change—instead of a collection of essays, he was encouraged to tell his story on stage.

"I remember thinking that I had a solid musical theater career going and it didn't seem like the business-savvy thing to do to perform this one-man show about being a drug addict in my 20s, but the project just got much bigger than me."

In addition to stories of his addiction, Methtacular! features five original songs written by Strafford, game-show interludes and more than a few pop-culture references.

"I have always explained things—truly emotional moments—in terms of sitcoms I watched as a child," explained Strafford. "I think it's a currency we all share, especially things we did or saw when we were young, because we have a real emotional tie to those things. Facts of life is a way of explaining how I felt about myself," revealed Strafford, whose Facts of Life soulmate is, not surprisingly, the theatrical, hilarious Nathalie Green.

In a way, Strafford still gets high on meth, but it's not the rush found at the end of a burning glass tube—he's energized by the reaction audience members have to Methtacular! "What takes place after Methtacular each night is almost as tiring as performing the actual show," Starfford said. "People are so lovely and honest. They have made themselves vulnerable simply by listening to the show, and I can see that it has broken them open. They come up to me afterwards and they tell me secrets, not just about doing drugs, but about eating disorders, and other things; one woman told me she had an abortion and had never told anyone else."

Strafford added that the nature of the show means he can't simply take a deep bow and bid the audience good night—and he wouldn't have it any other way.

Methtacular! will run Aug. 21-Sept. 28 at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave. Tickets are available at www.aboutfacetheatre.com, 773-975-8150 or at the Theater Wit box office.


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