Playwright: Scott Bradley
At: About Face Theatre at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave. Tickets: 773-975-8150 or AboutFaceTheatre.com; $20-$38. Runs through Dec. 7
There's so much to unpack in Packing. Scott Bradley's searing autobiographical monologue, now receiving a sterling world premiere courtesy of About Face Theatre and director Chay Yew, is a heart-wrenching journey of a gay man searching for a sense of self and of home.
Bradley is mostly known around Chicago as one half of The Scooty & Jo-Jo Show, or from his campy pop-cultural musical comedy mashups like Alien Queen, Carpenters Halloween or We Three Lizas.
Packing is a complete change as Bradley reveals, often with unflinching detail, his many life struggles.
Bradley begins with his often traumatic childhood at age 3 in 1969 Iowa. There are happy memories about riding a pony and meeting with grandparents who boast about their special rifles ( likely part of the reason why the show is called Packing ).
Yet those chipper anecdotes get subsumed by Bradley's mother's unfair post-partum guilt. There's also his father's dangerous alcoholism and gambling, plus terrible bullying in school.
Like so many gay men, Bradley finds a safe haven away from his worries with pop culture. There's a Flip Wilson-inspired ventriloquist dummy, a devotion to disco dancing, plus lots of Cher adoration.
But the salve of entertainment and performing can only go so far, as Bradley ( and Yew with sound designer Eric Backus ) reveal a debilitating "glitch" within his head. It recurs and trips Bradley up whenever the outside and inner-voices get the better of him.
Packing allows Bradley to share and analyze his life's journey to find himself emotionally and artistically. What's also so invaluable about it is that Bradley's life can be seen within a much larger LGBTQ historical context. Packing works for those who lived alongside similar historical traumas ( like the height of the AIDS crisis ), and for later generations so they can get a sense of what their elders endured in the push for so many more freedoms.
As a performer, Bradley keeps things breezy with lots of humor, so Packing isn't solely a depress-fest. But he's also able to access the past pain and palpably relive it in the moment.
Bradley is also aided with great technology to tell his tale. Projection designer Stephen Mazurak and lighting designer Lee Fiskness illustrate Packing from above onto the stage floor with great atmospheric videos and saturated color.
With Packing, Bradley reveals a serious side to himself that is therapeutic for himself and everyone else along for the ride. It's a personally brave and fulfilling story that deserves to be seen.