SCOTT BRADLEY’S ONE-MAN SHOW PACKING IS A MOVING PORTRAIT OF A MAN
BRAVE ENOUGH TO FIND STRENGTH IN THE DARKEST PLACES
Usually I am not a fan of one-man shows, unless the “man” or “person” is someone exciting like Kathleen Turner. However, I knew that the world premiere of Scott Bradley’s Packing was going to defy my rule. It’s directed by Chay Yew, Artistic Director of the Victory Gardens Theatre. He’s revolutionized the Victory Gardens and brought exciting and thought provoking work to its stage with renown performers and stories of struggles from around the world. He chooses work that entertains, enlightens and educates. Now he’s in collaboration with About Face Theatre Artistic Associate Scott Bradley, is the artfully told, breathtaking life story touted as a “journey of self-discovery as it intersects with recent Queer history.” Packing moves from Bradley’s early life in the sun-drenched, pristine cornfields of God-fearing Iowa to the tolerant independence and simultaneously community of the vibrant Chicago art world.
If what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, Scott Bradley is a man of steel. He could make Lou Ferrigno cower in a game of arm-wrestling. He tells his story with little artifice of costume or set. Instead, he stands upon a stage lit from underneath with projections that illustrate where he is on the dateline. He reveals throughout the 90 minutes how he has had to rise above his turbulent past to be who he is today. The story is frightening, provocative and cruel, but no matter how bad it gets, he never lets the audience feel sorry for him. He moves along mostly fleeing pain and suffering from the time he was a small child. He brings the audience along with him to a place that is safe, productive and healthy.
The phenomenal thing about this story is that he had no one to help him. He was alone from the time his mother told him that his baby sister died stillborn because giving birth to him reduced the strength of her stomach muscles. She told him it wasn’t his fault, but he still had to live with her burden and sadness. His father was an even bigger piece of work. He was never around and then one day just left him in a gas station in a snowstorm (viscerally recreated by sound designer Eric Backus). He called his grandmother “Grandma Hell.” The good thing about his childhood and near-role model, was his grandfather who came as close to loving him as possible in this family. He was a fun, crusty old man who would always get him into an imaginary gunfight and ask him if he was “packing.” He even left him the family musket.
His mother finally cheered up enough to move on and met another man and they had to pack up and move. They had a few more kids but new daddy was abusive and angry. When it became clear that young Scott was more interested in Cher than football, all hell broke loose at home. School was a living hell for Scott, not only was he the new kid, but he was maligned, alienated and brutally beaten. Finally he found a way to move away from home and started making friends and meeting people that had similar struggles. After years of battling low self-esteem, alcoholism and loneliness, he met someone he loved, wound up in Chicago and went on to have a career and success as a writer/performer. His work includes Alien Queen, Carpenters Halloween and the Christmas show We Three Lizas.
Reliving Scott Bradley’s story is a great way to kick off the holiday season, the triumphant story of a person who, with everything he has, demands all that life has to offer and demands that he be free from suffering, self-pity and narrow-mindedness. Although he speaks of experiencing crippling loneliness and isolation, a depth of humiliation that is unfathomable, he never lost his footing on the ladder of success. His story is an iconic inspiration to anyone who thinks they “just can’t take it anymore.” He is living proof that there’s always a better day ahead.
Packing runs through December 7 at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont. Tickets can be purchased at aboutfacetheatre.com or by phoning 773-975-8150. Tickets run from $20-$38 with discounts available for veterans, seniors and groups of 10 or more.
Review by Ruth Smerling