On Monday night, students and supporters alike flocked to the Athena Cinema for a viewing of School of Theater instructor Steven Strafford’s one-man production: “Methtacular!” Strafford's solo show tells the story of a scared young man on the precipice of his life who finds a haven in denial, conceit, meaningless sex and, as the name of the show suggests, crystal meth.
Strafford has traveled all around the country performing “Methtacular!” and one of his performances at Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago was filmed for free consumption on YouTube and was screened at the Athena Cinema along with an audience Q&A with Strafford himself.
“Methtacular!” underwent a long journey to become the spectacle that was shown Monday night. Strafford began writing down his stories while living in Queens, thinking that they would turn into a book and then those stories turned into a ten year long process, involving a stint as a cabaret act, that finally led to opening night.
The show was full of striking aspects, the least of which being Strafford’s indescribable versatility. Very few performers have the capability to make a story about going on a three-day-long bathhouse bender while family considers filing a missing person’s report absolutely side-splitting with a wry smile and charismatic attitude. The plot then segues into a tear-jerking number about the pain of addiction and finally switches to a game show segment in which audience members play “What’s My Meth?” with nothing but apples and clown horns.
Another remarkable facet to the production is Strafford’s undeniable courage. It takes a strong-willed person to tell stories of sleeping with men for drugs, money and sometimes even a place to live. However, it takes even more courage to tell those stories in such a tender way. Strafford opens the show by sharing things that he loves, thus putting a blind faith in a room of people to accept every part of his story, because and in spite of.
Spliced throughout the performance are interview clips of Strafford’s mother. She was interviewed at the beginning of the process by the show's director, Adam Fitzgerald, while Strafford waited in another room, anxious to hear his mother’s perspective of that dark time in his life.
“I’m funny and charming and I can spin a story, but my mom tells the truth,” he said.
Her involvement in the production was the perfect tether to reality in a story that is told through such a comical lens. A piece of wisdom that she shared outside of the interviews occurred when Strafford tested negative for HIV years after his frequent engagement in unprotected sex.
“You’re a miracle,” she said. “Now you have to do something with your life.”
Overall, “Methtacular!” works to prove no one's story should go untold. Stafford dug down deep within himself to tell his painful and taboo story from a distanced perspective of wisdom and humor. He is self-aware that his jokes are a defense mechanism, which meant that each one carried meaning and none resulted in empty laughs.
He shares wisdoms of things he wishes he could tell himself at that time in his life, even things as simple as the power of choices. Strafford also showcased his battle scars of the journey he has undergone.
“There’s no formula for who gets to recover and who doesn’t,” he said. “I wish there was.”
During the post-show talk back, Strafford detailed that one of the most reading parts of the show has been audience members reaching out to him.
Not only did the show inspire its viewers, but also the Athena employees who witnessed the event's turnout. Patricia Porter has been working at the Athena for four years and shared some of her thoughts on events like “Methtacular!”
“I think it was cool to get different groups of people who don’t usually come into the theater,” she said.
Porter also expressed her interest in local storytelling, and the community engagement that her workplace promotes.
“(The Athena) would love to include more people and as many diverse backgrounds as possible, so continue to come and continue to share your stories here.” Porter said.
Those interested in seeing the production can view it via YouTube using this link. The show presents the audience with an opportunity to be inspired by a beautiful and hilarious story of struggle and redemption.