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THE EIGHT homely ex-heroin addicts who improvised The Concept out of their cure at Daytop Village turned out to be an irresistibly attractive group of young people.
They came into the audience at the end of the evening and asked to be loved. And the Loeb audience, the bourgeoisie and its offspring, did seem to love these metamorphosed gutter rats from New York. Partly this was because they had entertained us, and for that we stood to applaud. They had taken milk crates (their only set or props) and marched with them straight into ballet. And they had externalized the tenseness of their maladjustments into the tension of drama.
Having learned at Daytop to come out from behind their images and let people get close, they were also able to open up and deliver themselves as characters with total honesty. I saw one actor in the Square on Saturday and was half surprised that he didn't say hello.
The characters in The Concept first came out on stage stripped down to their psyches, screaming "I'm lonely," "I'm afraid," "I'm angry," "I hate you." The cacophony recalled a Greek chorus. It seemed ten times more terrible than the wails of Trojan women, because each speaker was in a secluded hell. Only when they came together in a football huddle could they be silent.
In their street world the pusher offered salvation. "I want the meaning of life," Stephanie Richards says, and he proffers a sugar cube. Heaven used to be an expensive state of desperation, where kindness equaled one addict giving another his last bag.
Addicts, of course, get arrested a lot. After puking in a cell going through "cold turkey" Augie Nigro got a choice between four years in jail and Daytop Village.
"Sit up straight, you're at Daytop now!" At Daytop Augie literally yells to his encounter group for help. No one comes running with a soft shoulder or a dose' of Methadone to help him out. The object is to get him to "make an investment," and the group wants to know "What are you gonna do for yourself Augie?" But at least this investment, once exacted, is guaranteed to pay off.
DAYTOP offers a surrogate family. The cast refers to itself as brothers and sisters. They became heroin addicts because childhood didn't work out, and now is their chance to do it over and do it right. "No, I never told my father I loved him," Augie confesses. "No, it wasn't because I was afraid he'd think I was a homosexual,"
"Pull-ups." psychological calisthenics during which anti-social acts are named and admitted to are a regular part of morning meeting. "I left the cigarette burning in the linen closet," Lance admits. Daytop might have burned down.
"How do you feel about it?"
"I been up tight."
"What are you going to do?"
"I'm hanging up my cigarettes for a week."
Lance has to punish himself, because he chose to hang on to his guilt and remain alienated.
Afternoons feature "Seminar," which offers the audience a good deal of light humor while the player-participants act out essays on "my most embarrassing moment."
One character tells how he went for a walk in the park with his girl. They sat down. He held her close. He held her closer. A bird shat in his eye. "What did you do then?"
"I let it slide,"
Confession humanizes and invalidates the image game they all played on the street, so that people can get close together. No matter whose tale is being told, all the players pantomime the story, react, peer, gasp or laugh, so the story teller seems still less alone.
At times The Concept crew acts almost prototypically like the family doctors recommend. Louie gives Augie positive reinforcements. "You got a lot out of your first group. That's good."
But people can't relate to each other only in generalized and public ways. Augie must ask Louie for love. Stephanie must ask Lance. Neither is allowed to merely speak the words. The Daytop group won't let them retreat and slide through the final Marathon encounter. They must scream and agonize until feeling comes through protective bravado.
And it is worth it. Gerry loves Nester, even though she used to "curse and react at him." Nester feels good about it, because it's the first time he's felt loved just for being himself.
Daytop Village, with its encounter-group therapy and treatment of ex-addicts by other ex-addicts, has a 90 per cent cure rate. The Federal hospital at Lexington, Kentucky is three per cent successful. The surrogate family, the supplemental love and caring seem essential. Methadone, government administered maintenance programs for addicts, and jails seem the kind of shortcuts on which everyone gets lost.
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