By Orla O’Sullivan
Life expectancy is falling in the U.S. for the first time in a century. What explains this trend, contrary to what one expects in the modern world where medical advances allow people to live ever longer?
The opioid crisis, says the American Center for Health Statistics, which just reported that life expectancy fell in 2017 and looks likely to do so again in 2018 because of the abuse of prescription painkillers.
So, it could hardly be a more appropriate time for the Origin Theatre Company to commission a series of writers to explore this scourge, which is more lethal than AIDS was, as part of its 10th anniversary of its 1st Irish Theatre Festival.
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Five writers — all of them women — are contributing monologues that will be performed over the last weekend in January. The hour-long series, starting tomorrow night, the 25th, will be presented twice a night, in association with Shea Delves Productions.
The unusual, but deliberately chosen venue for the “Building Pain” series is an apartment above a bar, Bloom’s Tavern, at 208 East 58th St. in Manhattan. Origin’s spokesman confirmed that there’s irony in the proximity to potentially addictive substances downstairs while the intimacy of the apartment brings the issue home. Might it be in your living room, audience member?
Honor Molloy, one of the writers, said the topic was very close to home for her in that her father – television and stage actor John Molloy – had a very addictive personality and was an alcoholic. “He got to almost 70 years old, but if he had access to the kind of powerful drugs that are around now he wouldn’t have made it,” she said.
The project is the brainchild of George Heslin, founder and artistic director of Origin. He gave writers scope to produce 10 minutes of theatre using a much discussed New Yorker article as their jumping off point.
The article talked about deceptive marketing practices in the mid-1990s that led to the synthetic opioid OxyContin becoming widespread in the US. Promoters persuaded doctors it was ideal to address all kinds of pain without being addictive.
Brenda Meaney, who wrote another of the monologues, said, “Taking a closer look at the depths and origins of this shocking situation was welcome, if devastating.”
“This is my first foray into writing,” added Meaney, who describes herself as “very much an actor.” She’s the daughter of Colm Meaney (who could forget his performance as father of the pregnant teenager in the movie, “The Snapper”?). Brenda is also playing in “Party Face,” another 1st Irish event, running at City Center on West 55th St.
As for her monologue, she said, “It’s spoken by a working mother of grown children, one of whom is an addict. I am hoping to get at the loneliness and alienation that can lead people to use, as well as some of our unconscious prejudices about people who use.”
The mother is trying to get her son into a rehab and Meaney’s monologue takes place in the moments before she is to meet counselors who will decide the son’s situation.
Molloy provides an interesting counterpoint, especially since monologue writers did not collaborate. She chose a psychiatrist trying to understand the origins of addiction as her narrator.
Molloy is also at the opposite end of the scale from Meaney in that she’s an old hand at writing plays, now working on her 10th, “The Round Room,” set in Dublin’s 260-year old maternity hospital, the Rotunda.
Like the psychiatrist she created, Molloy is intrigued by the origins of compulsive behavior. A thread exploring the links between abuse, mental illness and addiction runs through all her work, she said. “It was in my first play 20 years ago and, again, most recently in ‘Crackskull Row,’” recently staged at The Irish Repertory Theatre, she said.
As for the venue for this piece, Molloy said, “My piece takes place in a kitchen so I’m thrilled that the audience will walk into an actual kitchen.”
She’s also “delighted that all the writers are women.”
Geraldine Hughes, Sarah Street, and Lisa Tierney-Keogh are the other contributors to “Building Pain — A Site Specific Experience.” There will be 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. performances on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, Meeting Point, Bloom’s Tavern, 208 East 58th Street. For tickets, go here.