One Addiction at a Time

Review of American Junkie at Book-It Repertory Theatre

Written by TeenTix Newsroom Writer Alison Smith, and edited by Teen Editor Hannah Schoettmer!

American_Junkie_2019_Studio19Photography-55-3

American Junkie starts in the middle: Tom Hansen, our narrator played by Ian Bond, is shooting up heroin after having done it too many times. Losing most feeling in his limbs, Tom barely manages to call 9-1-1. This leads him, bitterly, to rehab. Adapted by director Jane Jones and Kevin McKeon from Tom Hansen’s memoir of the same name, American Junkie follows two time periods: one of Tom’s entry into rehab and stumbling towards recovery; the other of his childhood, adolescence, involvement with the Seattle punk scene, and everything else leading up to his 9-1-1 call. American Junkie, which had its last performance at the Book-It Repertory Theatre on March 10, is not an uplifting story of recovery: rather, it’s a portrayal of the stranglehold of addiction, as seen through one man’s funny, honest, and wry internal monologue. It’s also a portrait of Seattle before the tech boom, and of the punk scene before Nirvana made it famous. Poised for the current moment, where opioid addiction is ravaging whole communities, American Junkie is a moving, visceral portrait of addiction and the dirty underbelly of Seattle.

American Junkie at Book-It Repertory Theatre. Photo by Studio 19 Photography.

After the 9-1-1 call, the play flashes back to Tom’s childhood as the son of Norwegian immigrants living in Lynnwood. The play shows his formative experiences, including finding out he’s adopted and his dad’s death, yet doesn’t use them to explain the course of his life. In fact, Tom takes responsibility for his actions, groaning when his mom blames his drug use on his friends or “that girl” (his girlfriend). The throughline of these events is Tom’s vague, yet gnawing and debilitating dissatisfaction with the world and with himself. From the very beginning, he exhibits self-destructive tendencies. As a child, upset with his girly bike, he throws it off a cliff—then he wonders what it’d be like if he threw himself off too. That childlike disappointment stays with him in his later years, and Bond plays Tom with an compelling mix of worn-down apathy and palpable emotion.

Weirdly, Tom feels most content with himself when he’s a drug dealer cruising through Seattle, making $1,000 a day—by his estimate. As he puts it, “I finally felt like I was contributing to the economic fabric of society.” He likes feeling needed—which, if you judge by the needs of customers, he clearly is.

American Junkie is not for the faint of heart, nor of stomach. We get Tom’s narration about withdrawal and its attendant sweating and cold shivers; we get a description of the pus that emerges from a wound in his hip: “like olive oil, in color and consistency.” The hole in Tom’s hip gets so much elaboration it’s practically its own character. American Junkie both shows the appeal of drugs as a medication for psychological pain while portraying drug use as utterly unappealing, aesthetically and otherwise.

American Junkie at Book-It Repertory Theatre. Photo by Studio 19 Photography.

Another caveat: if you’re coming to this play for nostalgia about the grunge scene, you’ve come to the wrong place. Although there are references that will engender an enjoyable jolt of recognition—a joke making fun of Lynnwood, descriptions of The Showbox and other local venues—the pre-Nirvana punk scene is portrayed as a place where superficiality masquerades as rebellion. Tom’s band screams about politics and resisting authority, yet they also write a song about roadkill titled “Splat Goes the Cat.” Still, there’s a care paid to the scene’s aesthetics, from Tom’s Chuck Taylors, leather jacket, and acid wash denim vest to the flannel and beat-up Keds the other band members wear.

Although American Junkie can be hard to watch at times, it’s still very much worth seeing. In not shying away from the indignities of addiction, it never stoops to sensationalism. Through Tom’s intimate monologues, the play captures the psychological complexity of wanting to be well, and at the same time, not being able to imagine yourself as well. The play’s structure, where recovery and relapse repeat, reflect the reality of addiction, where progress is often slow and triumph nonexistent. The play’s view of progress is encapsulated by Tom’s reaction when one of the workers at the rehab center observes that he’s started smoking again: “One addiction at a time.”


The Teen Editorial Staff is made up of 5 teens who curate the review portion of the TeenTix blog and manage the TeenTix Newsroom. More information about the Teen Editorial Staff can be found HERE.

The TeenTix Press Corps promotes critical thinking, communication, and information literacy through criticism and journalism practice for teens. For more information about the Press Corps program see HERE.

Login

Create an account | Reset your password