Theater is often used as a means of social change, offering the audience different perspectives on controversial or tough subject matter. That’s why I was incredibly shocked when one of BET’s Quickies this year seemed to capitalize on meth addiction. It’s hilarious, right? People can do funny things under the influence of methamphetamine. For example, experience large amounts of euphoria, which are soon replaced by oblivion to the world around them? Have uncontrollable violent tendencies? Terrifying hallucinations? Memory loss? Paranoia? While the Quickie “Metharoni and Cheese” did not focus on all of these symptoms, it came dangerously close to finding humor at the expense of a serious illness: addiction.
“Metharoni and Cheese” was a quirky play featuring a large ensemble and a few main characters. It began as lights came up on two brothers guarding a pot of Mac and Cheese (presumably meth), as third brother sat off to the side overseeing the process.
Throughout the play their sister Ellen discovers that her brothers are making and selling meth. When Ellen asks about the customers, lights came up on several actors lining the walls of the theater. These were the customers, and they made their way towards the stage itching and picking at their skin, lolling their heads and portraying zombie-like physicality. After attempting to peek inside the pot and failing, Ellen called the police. When the police arrived they discovered that the pot did actually hold mac and cheese. When they left, Ellen once again saw the customers in the audience. The play ended without a sense of finality.
The result of this was confusion. Many of the audience members in front of me turned to each other and muttered, “What just happened?” I was not sure either. Was this a commentary on meth addicts? Was it at the expense of addicts? If Ellen was an addict, I wish that the show focused more on her journey with addiction instead of presenting it as a source of humor. Additionally, if the whole performance was a phenomenon focusing on placing the audience in the shoes of a meth addict in order to mirror the confusion which is a symptom of meth, it was far too confusing and light-natured. Even if it was well intended, the audience still laughed at the portrayed symptoms of the meth addicts.
Although the representation of meth addiction in the show was based on accurate media portrayals of meth abuse (such as skin-crawling), it also picked up on the violent tendencies that accompany meth addiction. Randomly Ellen’s brother, the guy in charge of the meth operations stood up and threw his chair on the ground. The audience immediately laughed after this, and I was not exactly sure why we, as a society, are trained to laugh at something with which we are unfamiliar. I was not sure if the playwright intended this to be humorous, or if it was the director’s choice, but either way the laughter was encouraged.
After this violent spontaneity, the actor did not appear to be unstable and the action was dismissed without much discussion. Basically, the lasting impacts of violent tendencies and the emotional and mental pain the meth addict faces with these tendencies was not explored in the slightest.
Which brings me to a bigger point: how we view addiction. Many people dismiss addiction as a weak, easy escape from the stress of everyday life. This viewpoint refuses to consider addiction’s comorbidity with depression, anxiety and schizophrenia, among other mental disorders. These other disorders can exacerbate or motivate addiction. Addiction is a complex brain disorder where the compulsive need for drugs and drug abuse lead to devastating effects. In fact, the DSM-V identifies addiction as a disorder, distinguishing between drug abuse and drug dependence. Additionally, there are genetic and environmental vulnerabilities that predispose people to addiction, making them more susceptible to try and become addicted to drugs.
You may think that I am being picky, trying to find some fault in the show, something to make a case about. I think that the mere fact that we are dismissing a show, which does not deal with addiction in a considerate or exploratory manner, is indicative of the necessity for mental illness education. That means educating ourselves about disorders such as addiction and other mental disorders that are viewed as “personal faults” by those who are ignorant.
Last year there was a controversy around one of the Quickies. This was very fair as the play was attempting to find humor at the expense of an alcoholic. So why is it not the same with meth addiction this year?