When Mark Lundholm appeared at the Ricketson Theatre in Addicted: A Comedy of Substance last year, I was blown away by his talent as a performer but had mixed feelings about the material. It was often hilariously funny and sometimes insightful, but it was weighted down -- particularly in the second act -- by a lot of preaching. The new version is sharper and more concise; it has a cleaner narrative line. Much of the conventional twelve-step maundering is gone, and the remaining psychological insights are exemplified in Lundholm's story rather than stated as aphorisms. Because Lundholm is as charismatic a performer as ever, the result is a fast-moving, challenging, touching and sometimes revelatory vision of one man's descent into hell and the grueling journey back to life.
This is, of course, Lundholm's personal story. It begins when he's a twitchy, hyperactive child and continues with his increasing dependence on drugs and alcohol. Lundholm is able to control himself sufficiently to marry and father a child, but then he deserts the family and spirals into homelessness and petty crime. He goes to prison. He attempts suicide. He staggers through a rehabilitation process and begins honing his skills as a stand-up comic -- his first gig occurring at a penitentiary. The script for Addicted starts to evolve.
The strength of this piece lies in Lundholm's energy and his openness with the audience. He hurls himself into the performance, and his emotional nakedness is so compelling that on the night I attended, a couple of audience members started talking back to him -- not heckling, but wanting to respond or tell him something. Yet this is not the untutored acting of an inspired amateur: Lundholm also has timing, delivery and skill. When he describes holding his newborn child on his arm (she reaches only from palm to elbow), we can sense the aching love that threatens to overwhelm him, and also all the reasons for his flight.
The script has moments of brilliance. It's informed by Lundholm's sense of irony and his self-deprecating humor (at one point, after a little tough-guy strutting, he reveals that he was once relieved of his gun during an attempted armed robbery by a tiny Asian woman). He also has a genuine curiosity about other people and an eye for vivid detail. Coming across a fellow street person who died overnight, Lundholm describes the posture and look of this man's body exactly -- seated, head tilted back, face gray -- and then tells us what he felt: envy. The new script retains one of the anecdotes I loved in the first version of Addicted -- the moment when Lundholm finds himself sobbing helplessly on the huge bosom of a 300-pound black woman, whose presentation on her own recovery he'd mocked for us only minutes earlier.
The preachy comments that remain now sound like hard-won personal insights rather than exhortations to the audience. Paradoxically, this makes it more likely that we'll heed them. But I think the most important thing we take away from Addicted is a visceral understanding of what addiction is at the core: a neglected baby's desperate need, a hunger so huge it consumes all it touches.
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