Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron

How to Be a Respectable Junkie
Dobama Theatre
Review by Mark Horning

Also see Mark's review of 9 to 5 the Musical


Christophe Bohan
Photo by Steve Wagner Photography
After a day of heavy rain, you make your way along I-490 East to 55th Street, being careful to maintain the speed limit of 60 miles per hour on the wet pavement. Ahead of you is a silver two-door sedan traveling at the same speed when it approaches an underpass where a large puddle of water covers the entire left lane. Without slowing down, the sedan hits the water and, as you watch in horror, it does a series of 360 spins—once, twice as it careens across the right lane in front of you and off the berm into the swampy high grass that lines the highway.

Nobody is injured but everyone is shaken up, including you, and it will take a tow truck to extract the damaged car from deep in the rushes. In the area where this happened are scattered pieces of car parts—an entire front bumper, decorative trim, hubcaps and a license plate bracket with the plate still attached—all from a variety of autos. You wonder why others are not noticing the danger of hitting this water and avoiding it.

This is exactly what it is like watching the Dobama Theatre production of Greg Vovos's How to Be a Respectable Junkie directed by Nathan Motta. This one-man show stars Christopher Bohan as Brian, who takes us on a ninety-minute journey through the seven circles of hell that constitute a heroin addict's life.

Brian's $70 a day habit (cheap by comparison) has brought him to the lowest part of his life. He is broke, barely employed, living in his mother's basement, and making his way through life in four-hour increments (the time between "bumps"). His diet consists of Skittles and high fat content ice cream. His arms are a mass of abscesses, scars and bruises. Even night brings no relief to his suffering.

After repeated attempts to get clean, Brian has decided to kill himself on Tuesday. He simply cannot face life anymore—with or without his heroin. He is simply tired of having to hustle and cheat everybody he comes in contact with. Having made an elaborate (but truly undoable) plan, he has decides to make a video (using a camera he "borrowed") instructing everyone on "How to Be a Respectable Junkie."

His only true friend (outside his dealer and his mother) is his dog Hope, who lives in a blanket-covered cage in Brian's basement home. Although you never see the dog, there is an ongoing conversation between the two (using excellent sound effects). Over the course of making his video, Brian gives step by step advice concerning his addiction. He talks about his first drug use in high school, his expanded dive into alcoholism and recreational drugs following graduation, and his first attempt at rehab where he introduced to heroin by another out-patient.

Great detail is given on his quick fall from grace (just a few years) as the drug takes over every aspect of his life. In order to be "respectable," certain rules need to be followed (many of which he has broken repeatedly). While steering clear of glorifying this deadly and wastrel lifestyle, the show helps de-mystify the life of an addict for those who are unfamiliar with addiction.

Brian covers the dangers ("cotton fever," dealers, law enforcement, etc.) as well as the "whys" of drug addiction (it simply feels good to be high). You suffer along with him during his series of rehab "cold turkey" withdrawals which include sweats, uncontrolled vomiting and diarrhea, and debilitating body aches. You also witness his hatred and disgust with himself and the habit that has paralyzed him nearly to the point of no return.

Christopher Bohan (who has been involved with a number of Dobama projects) gives a tour de force performance. Nothing is left on stage. When he demonstrates shooting up, his entire demeanor changes as the drug takes effect. With the passage of time, he circles back from a mellow laid-back attitude to a raging tirade as the drug leaves his system. His portrayal goes beyond basic acting—the audience is convinced that he is an addict bent on self-destruction and who is using right in front of them.

It may be a spoiler to say, but the final scene bring hope, in the form of Brian's sponsor, who invites Brian to a sober camp out.

The set is a carefully constructed environment showing great attention to detail, right down to the light streaming in from the small basement window. It is totally functional. The lighting sets the mood perfectly, adding a depressed feel to the dank room where Brian has been exiled. The sound is perfectly controlled and special kudos to the timing of the "dog speak" that is vital to the story.

Every so often a show comes along that hits with the intensity of a car wreck. How to Be a Respectable Junkie is such a show, with no punches being pulled. At times humorous to counterbalance the raw nerve intensity, it is a stark look at a national epidemic that shows no sign of weakening. As brutal as it is, this is must see theater.

How to Be a Respectable Junkie, at The Dobama Theatre, 2340 Lee Road, Cleveland Heights, through July 2, 2017. Tickets may be purchased online at www.dobama.org or by phone at (216) 932-3396.


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