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PACA's 'Hatful of Rain' is a Powerful Reflection of the Time

February 7th, 2019, 12:00 AM

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The 64-year-old drama depicting opioid addiction feels surprisingly fresh in this well-acted local production.

Seeking to inform rather than just entertain, PACA's "A Hatful of Rain" is a striking drama that reflects the ongoing national (and, sadly, local) opioid epidemic.

Although it originally debuted on Broadway 64 years ago, the play by Michael V. Gazzo is still surprisingly fresh in its depiction of addiction's grip.

It follows Korean War veteran Johnny Pope (Jason Fried), who lives with his pregnant wife Celia (Krista Perry Lamb) and his brother Polo (Paul Lukach) in a cramped New York City apartment. Secretive and jobless, he's starting to keep odd hours, staying out all night and offering only vague excuses to his mate. While Celia suspects another woman, it's another temptress entirely: morphine, which Johnny was given while recovering from war wounds and can't kick.

When their father (Victor Kuehn) comes to collect $2,500 that he loaned to Polo (who gave it to Johnny for his worsening drug habit) and Johnny's drug dealer appears on his doorstep, the stage is set for buried secrets to be exhumed.

Directed by Mark Tanenbaum, "Hatful" pulls no punches. It details Johnny's mental, moral and physical descent as he's fired from his workplace, lies to his family, contemplates crime to support his habit and occasionally suffers the agonizing withdrawal symptoms.

But there are also moments of humor — including oddball words or expressions that received a few sniggers from the audience — that help break up the tension throughout the powerful drama.

Don't let some of the characters' nicknames fool you. John Schaaf's role as Mother is a literate, even sleazily charming drug pusher whose true self is revealed when he doesn't get the money he's owed. Mark Capozziello is Apples, his slimy lieutenant who's quick with a snarky comment — and a knife — and Rob Karney is Chuch, a thug with a soft heart.

Kuehn's performance is compelling, progressing from a sweet, endearing father to a dysfunctional one, perpetually admiring Johnny while condemning Polo. Lukach's Polo is multilayered, encompassing an innocent yet damned son, potential philanderer with Celia and tormented brother's keeper. Lamb also aptly maneuvers from contented housewife, mother-to-be, suspicious spouse to a lonely, tempted woman.

Fried's Johnny, however, is an impressive house-of-mirrors performance: loving-but-absentee husband; family referee; frightened, confused, ashamed loner; a trembling junkie. The actor's riveting scenes as an addict in need provide the audience a persuasive depiction of the pangs of dependence.

But "Hatful" offers no easy answers — just a powerful, unforgettable glimpse of the emotional and physical toll that addiction takes.

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