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by Joel Elkins~

There’s small theater and then there’s intimate theater.  For its current production, The Knightsbridge Theatre has taped off its normal 99 seats and gathered about 25 folding chairs around the stage, pulling the audience so close they almost feel part of the action.  Which is, I guess, the point.  What’s more, the company makes an inspired choice not to pass out programs until after the play is over, so as to further make audience members feel like participants, rather than mere observers.

As for the play itself, Twenty Two is an original one-act by new playwright Julia Morizawa about her personal struggles with drugs, or, as it is described, “a young woman’s cathartic downfall into cocaine addiction.”  Now a recovering addict, Morizawa uses theater as part of her own recovery and also to inspire others.

She also stars as the primary character, Leila, whom we first encounter as she anxiously awaits her drug buddy Danny (played by Matthew Black) to come back with another “8-ball,” which they proceed to inhale within a few minutes of his arrival.  They are joined by their mutual friend Eric (Raymond Donahue) and Leila’s BFF Zoe (Shaina Vorspan), who are more than happy to join in.  I must admit that at this point, the idea of recreational drug use seemed rather appealing.

However, that feeling soon dissipated.  As the play continues, Leila and her friends continue to ingest whatever they can get her hands on in a futile attempt to keep ahead of the inevitable crash.  Together, they partake when they are happy so as to sustain their mood and when they are hurting in order to dull the pain.  Either way, their lives are totally preoccupied with drugs, as they’re either selling it, using it or thinking about how to get some more.  In fact, there was so much simulated drug use during the course of this play, I left the theater with a real case of the munchies.  (That joke would have been a lot funnier except for the fact that most of the drugs ingested were actually appetite inhibitors.)

All along, Leila recognizes the insanity of the downward spiral in which she is caught.  She is ashamed of what she is willing to do for a fix, even as she is doing it, be it pulling tricks in the parking lot or licking remnants off the inside of a plastic baggie.  It is brutally honest and astonishingly realistic.

They say the invention of the camera led to the development and proliferation of impressionism and abstract art forms.  After all, if the best an artist can hope to achieve can already be done by a machine, why bother to compete with that?  Theater (and later motion pictures), on the other hand, never really faced this predicament.  In fact, if anything, the trend in acting has been towards becoming more realistic.

Well, if art is supposed to imitate life, Twenty Two has accomplished its mission.  The characters are totally believable, the dialogue is as natural as it gets and the acting overall is amazingly realistic.  James Adam Patterson in particular gives an incredibly believable performance as Sol (pronounced, appropriately, “Soul”), the cool, smarmy, quick-tempered drug dealer, the kind of undesirable that drugs can apparently bring into your life.  Despite the harshness of the character, Patterson gives a surprisingly nuanced portrayal.

As a snapshot of the playwright’s life at 22 (which I am assuming is the meaning of the title) or as a mirror on the daily existence of all-too-many addicts in this country, Twenty Two works.  It doesn’t attempt to really answer any deeper questions: “How did she fall into that trap to begin with?”  “Is it just a physical addiction, or do drugs fill a bigger hole?”  “How does she pull herself out?”  “What happens to her friends?”  “Do they join her in sobriety or at least support her in her journey?”  Perhaps the answers to those questions will have to wait until Twenty-Three.

Twenty-Two was directed by Raymond Donahey and co-produced by Morizawa and Shaina Vorspan. Joseph P. Stachura. was executive producer.

Twenty Two is performed Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. through January 30, 2010.

The Knightsbridge Theatre is located at 1944 Riverside Drive, 3 blocks east of Glendale Blvd., where the 2 and 5 freeways meet.