10/25/2019       SAFETY NET                                         Theatrical Outfit

IN THE ARMS OF JESUS

 

The statistics are cause for concern:

 

  • Roughly 21 to 29 percent of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them.

  • Between 8 and 12 percent develop an opioid use disorder.

  • An estimated 4 to 6 percent who misuse prescription opioids transition to heroin.

  • About 80 percent of people who use heroin first misused prescription opioids.

  • Opioid overdoses increased 30 percent from July 2016 through September 2017 in 52 areas in 45 states.

  • The Midwestern region saw opioid overdoses increase 70 percent from July 2016 through September 2017.

  • Opioid overdoses in large cities increased by 54 percent in 16 states. (**)

 

Indeed, it is impossible to access any news source without hearing the latest updates on the crisis, without hearing new revelations about Drug Company misdeeds and complicity in furthering the crisis.

 

Which, of course, makes it is a potent and compelling backdrop for a play.  Enter Daryl Lisa Fazio, an Atlanta playwright with a track record of creating memorable family stories against a politically charged backdrop (witness

Split in Three, which had a wonderful Aurora production two years ago).  With Safety Net, she has (very) successfully shown the effects of the opioid crisis on one family, on the victims, on the :”collateral damages,” and on the warriors who face it every day.

 

Chris Dove (played by playwright Daryl Lisa Fazio)  is an EMT supervisor in a small Alabama town, in line to become chief.  Her brother died from an overdose after being prescribed painkillers following an accident.  Her grief (and self-blame) has led her to throw herself into her work, even though that work involves bringing overdoes victims “back to life” on a daily basis.  Her life is about to get a “Christmas Boost” in the form of her invalid mother moving in, and the arrival of a recovering addict she once saved.

 

Throw into the eggnog the typical Christmas surge in overdoses, and it promises to be a holiday of little rest, many revelations, and some long overdue truth-facing.  And you know, with Mother fighting major pain, there will be some prescription opioids hidden somewhere that will be a flame-to-the-moth obsession before all is said and done.

 

Ms. Fazio’s script is a compelling look at a woman, a family in crisis.  These three characters continually charm and surprise us, and their choices all seem logical and compelling.  That Chris and her mother (Xenia, played by an almost unrecognizable Carolyn Cook) easily accept the ex-addict, Val,  (Rhyn McLemore Saver) may seem odd, but it is totally logical – it’s the same “Samaritan Complex” that drove Chris to become an EMT, coupled with a very real need for help in caring for Xenia.

 

Director Karen Robinson deserves praise for keeping the focus on the characters and their story rather than the “facts and figures” of the crisis, letting any judgments be based on character rather than political “axes to grind.”  Yes, there is talk about doctors who over-prescribe, but there is also talk about the very real effectiveness and relief opioids give to chronic pain patients.  Yes, Val did get into drugs by making a wrong choice at a wrong time, but she also “got clean” when her habit led to a death.  These characters are not monoliths, not contrived constructs to make a point.  They are real people who make good and bad choices, who have to deal with the consequences of those choices.

 

And this cast totally commits to these roles.  Ms. Fazio is in a constant state of exhaustion and despair; but she is still able to find countless moments of joy, love, and humor, especially when talking to the EMT’s under her charge.  Ms. Cook is perfect as Xenia, with a painful stoop and a constant “Resting Eye-Roll” face, no doubt based on years of exasperations that usually come with parenthood.  And she contrasts that beautifully when, late in the show, she heeds that “siren call” of pain relief.  And Ms. Saver creates a compelling Val, at times jittery and hyper (making us wonder if she is REALLY “clean”), at others he voice of reason and calm  All come with deep-South accents that enhance the characters and the locale without being indecipherable to my decidedly Yankee ears.

 

Stephanie Polhemus has created an elegant set – skeletal bones of the Dove house fronted by a bare space from which Chris can soliloquize – well, address her “charges.”  The venue’s bare brick walls are always visible, and the effect is one of an old house needing repair.  Mike Post’s lighting is especially effective, throwing color on the brick wall to set time of day, but also letting his “brick wash” change for effect and emphasis.

 

This is a timely, memorable piece that addresses today’s opioid crisis without being polemical, without naming “villains”, without losing sight of the real effect it has on users, on families, on caregivers.  And it drives home the insidiousness of the problem:  it would never be a crisis if the drugs had only “recreational uses.”

 

As Val states, (and forgive my paraphrase), “When you’re in pain, an opioid is like falling asleep in the arms of Jesus.  And then you die.”

 

     -- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com   @bk_rudy    #TOSafetyNet)

 

(**) This data was copied from https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/opioids/opioid-overdose-crisis, which cites the sources for all these numbers.

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