- OTHER MEDIA
- Meth Actor
Petaluma playwright examines what happens when drugs take center stage
- By Patricia Lynn Henley
- She glitters as she moves across the stage, strutting audaciously.
With a sweep of her hand or the breeze of her musical breath, she influences
the actions of others. Blending the personas of Shakespeare's mischievous
Puck with the ominous emcee in Cabaret, her name is Crystal Meth.
- From the darkened front row, Petaluma playwright Deborah Eubanks watches
Crystal avidly. Eubanks' short blond hair is barely visible as she leans
forward to focus intently on the actors and then leans back to immerse
herself in the reactions of the opening-night crowd in downtown San Francisco.
She explains afterward that she felt both excited and extremely vulnerable.
- "I felt like a bug coming out from under a stone, and everybody
going, 'Look, that's her life.' I kept girding my loins and saying this
is for the greatest good. People need to know this. You can't fight the
enemy unless you know it, unless you know its power and its force."
- The enemy is methamphetamine, and Eubanks is intimately familiar with
its dominating presence. Her oldest daughter went through a heartbreaking
but ultimately successful effort to extract herself from meth addiction.
Eubanks has transformed the family's roller-coaster journey with the drug
into the performance play Crystal Daze, the centerpiece production of this
year's DIVAfest at San Francisco's Exit Theater.
- "It transcended my expectations," Eubanks says of watching
Crystal Daze on opening night. "It was much, much more of a pure art
form than when I saw it in my mind's eye, because it's so close to home.
It's so close to who I am."
- Born and raised in England, Eubanks trained at the Harold Pinter Studios,
designed and ran theater workshops and taught at Covent Garden Art Center
before moving to the United States when she was in her early 30s. She's
been a director and artist in residence at Petaluma's Cinnabar Theater,
has taught voice and Shakespeare at ACT and drama at a private high school
in the North Bay, and spent the last four years teaching at the Berkeley
- Eubanks' journey toward the creation of Crystal Daze began several
years ago with the difficult realization that the eldest of her two daughters
was hooked on meth. Emotionally exhausted by watching her daughter's descent
into a drug-induced hell and by her own increasingly desperate search for
solutions that ultimately led nowhere, Eubanks began journaling to express
her innermost thoughts and feelings.
- She recorded her joys, when her daughter seemed to be making progress,
followed by her deep despair when the drug once again took over their lives.
Eubanks used her writing to rage against the harshness of proffered advice--throw
her daughter out of the family home and let her sink or swim on her own--and
her agony when she eventually made that difficult decision.
- "When you can look into the face of someone you love so much and
you see only the drug, you look and you see only that chemical dancing
its wild fire against every muscle, every bone, when you look and see only
that, then is the moment when you can't do it anymore," she says.
"Then is the point when you say, 'I'm done.' It's the hardest thing
in the world to turn your back on the embodiment of that person."
- Slowly, her writing evolved, becoming less personal, gaining more of
a voice and almost a three-dimensional shape. Deeply immersed in theater
all her life, Eubanks naturally began to see theatrical possibilities,
a way to share her story and her perspective in a familiar form.
- Eagerly throwing herself into research, Eubanks spoke with DEA officials,
meth-addicted inmates and her own young students. She chatted endlessly
online with others who had family members hooked on the drug and read everything
she could find about it. Eubanks immersed herself in the drug's subculture,
learning its language and its black humor. And as her daughter finally
began to turn her life around, Eubanks more and more saw her journal writing
as the prelude to a play, a highly stylized performance piece exploring
meth's deep roots in our society and how the drug tears mother-daughter
- Applying to Exit Theater's DIVAfest, Eubanks was selected to write
Crystal Daze, which is the only fully staged production in this year's
- "Out of over a hundred submissions, her play kind of jumped out
at me because of the subject matter," says Exit artistic director
Christina Augello, who portrays one of the mothers in the current production.
"It's a very timely subject matter, and it's also a true story, which
makes it very compelling."
- Written from the heart-rending perspective of two mothers whose daughters
have been seduced by the character of Crystal Meth, the play underscores
how addiction affects not just the addicts but all the people around them.
- "Crystal Meth is a character in the show, and there's a competition
for the daughters," Augello explains. "The mothers are fighting
to save their daughters, and Crystal Meth is fighting to keep them."
- The play emphasizes that it's the drug that's the culprit, not the
- "It's important to distinguish that. You always have to look at
it that way, as a mother. You have to remember and try to get her back
to that person she was before she was kidnapped by the drug," Augello
adds. "The play is hopeful in the respect that it believes there is
a way of reaching into the soul and spirit of people addicted to drugs
and somehow to help them return by keeping the distinction between the
drug and the person."
- Jessica Fudim did the choreography, not just the opening dance where
Crystal Meth takes two beautiful young woman and toys with them until they're
nearly unrecognizable in skin-crawling withdrawal, but all of the physical
action throughout the 90-minute play. "Movement is really a major
piece of how the story is manifested," Fudim explains.
- Light and set designer Armanda Ortmayer created an exceptionally visual
series of translucent sliding panels that evoke images both of the smoke
that mesmerizes meth addicts and the ubiquitous baggies in which the drug
is sold. Costume designer Lisa Eldrige creatively clothed Crystal Meth
in a series of skimpy but glittering outfits, the mothers in subdued hues
that reflect their emotional battering, the daughters in clothes that make
them appear alternatively angelic (as in their mothers' memories) or increasingly
demented (while in meth's clutches).
- The play was developed collaboratively with the technical team and
cast members Augello, Sadie Lune, Lizzie Sell, Joelle Wagner and Cheryl
Smith. When personal reasons forced Eubanks to withdraw as director in
March, Michelle Talgarow stepped in as co-director. That turned out to
be for the best, Eubanks says, because she was simply too close to the
subject matter. "They far, far exceeded what I could have come up
- Meth is the ideal drug in our speeded-up society, Eubanks asserts,
and its impacts are more far-reaching than most people realize. In the
opening dance of Crystal Daze, the daughters rip open angelic-looking nightgowns
to reveal dark, sleeveless T-shirts adorned with images of young girls
with huge eyes. The girls are climbing out their bedroom windows next to
the words "party all night." Costume designer Eldrige found the
shirts in the juniors department of a major chain store. The eyes on those
"cute" T-shirts are meth eyes, and images of meth permeate our
world, Eubanks charges.
- "When I tell people this, they look at me like I'm a conspiracy
theorist. People don't know what they're selling sometimes. It has infiltrated
in ways that I think we can't even bargain for."
- One of her neighbors teaches kindergarten. The woman recently confided
in Eubanks that methamphetamine is a growing problem among the parents
of her young students.
- "That shook me," Eubanks says thoughtfully. It also makes
her glad she wrote Crystal Daze.
- "If this play can shift people's awareness, awaken them with regard
to methamphetamine and the growing woes of this terrible drug, that's wonderful."
- Standing on a stage that is extremely simple and yet still seeped in
signs of meth, one of the mothers in Crystal Daze declares, "I'm tired
of hearing people refer to my daughter as 'the addict.' My daughter has
- The play gives a voice to those who love meth addicts, down to the
occasional but quickly repressed thought that a daughter's death might
be better than her continued agony. Crystal Daze is a cry for help from
an often indifferent society, and a call to drop the stereotypes and remember
- "I want other people to understand, empathize and begin to consider
new and potentially more successful approaches to addiction and to this
drug in particular," Eubanks explains with passion in her voice.
- She just doesn't know yet what those new methods might be.
- "We need to shift gears and ask more questions than just offering
ready-made answers. I don't think we as a society know what the ramifications
of this drug might be. I do know that we can't continue watching the ramifications
culminating in human debris on street corners."
- She's already planning some rewrites, and another theater company is
considering including a reading of Crystal Daze in its 2008 schedule. Even
after the DIVAfest ends, Crystal Daze will continue to offer its perceptions
and insights, and its call for new solutions. The answers, Eubanks says,
can't be one-size-fits-all.
- "Every meth addict has a name and a family who loved them and
lost them. Somewhere, there's got to be a mother who birthed that meth