To begin with, the audience crowding the foyer of Writers & Books waiting to see Padraic Lillis' one-man show "How to Survive Crack Addiction" seemed all wrong to me. I expected -- I don't know -- youthful? But these folks were almost all of a certain age, dressed respectably and drinking coffee out of Styrofoam cups. Did they have grandkids they worried were getting into the hard stuff? Were they thrillseekers? Or did they simply know and respect the work of Lillis?
His bio is indeed impressive. He won the Overall Excellence Award for directing his production of "BULLY" by Lee Kaplan at this year's New York International Fringe Festival; his 10-minute play "Ronnie's Mask" was produced at the Steppenwolf Performance Garage in Chicago; and he is an adjunct professor with New York University's department of dramatic writing. (Scott Hudson directed this show for Rochester Fringe.)
Disappointingly, I found the show a bit dull. More like sitting in on an AA meeting than experiencing professional theater. I wanted more. More drama. More grit. More details. Still, a solo show is challenging. Lillis found a way around some of the limitations by his clever, but gimmicky framing of the play. He portrays the crack-addict character, Kevin S., as he recollects his downward spiral and shares with the audience his rules for how to survive crack addiction, rules which he has composed into a guidebook of sorts that he sends to his closest -- actually, only remaining -- friend who has nonetheless stopped speaking to him.
Program notes tell us that Lillis wrote the play as a response to not being able to help a close friend of his stop using. Thus, the play has a bit of a "play within a play" feeling. It also makes you curious as to how much is true story and how much is fiction.
Humor is abundant, and the audience responded throughout the performance Friday night. Personally, I found it to be more of the quiet-chuckle-to-oneself kind of funny, but laughter and guffaws rang out frequently in the crowded room. Lillis is a skilled actor, never overacting, which adds punch to an already good script. His portrayal of Kevin is a portrayal of any addict -- crack, alcohol, or other. Kevin's rationalizations are both funny and sad.
"I did not sell his stuff," he says at one point in reference to a friend's belongings left in Kevin's care. "I am not an asshole. The disease sold his stuff. And I'm sure the disease will someday pay him back."
("How to Survive Crack Addiction" will be performed again Saturday, September 28, 8 p.m. at Writers & Books. Tickets cost $10.)