His wife’s comment about his smoking during a couples counseling session launches writer-performer Bob Brader’s autobiographical, eloquent and entertaining solo play Smoker. It’s a solid addition to the literary genre exploring the mystique and fetishization of smoking cigarettes.
I look at that Gold Zippo Lighter and think about the first time I ever saw this beauty. It shined as I held it in my hands… It glowed as I filled it with lighter fluid…
Mr. Brader’s writing on this fascinating subject is sharp, insightful and well-observed. As a performer, Brader’s breezy personability endows his personal odyssey with an appealing everyman quality as he appears as himself and impersonates various other characters. At 80 minutes, the show is overall compelling. Cold turkey, gradual cessation, hypnosis and bicycle spinning are all attempted to stop with varying results.
The black-accented contained stage is set with a white chair and a small white table and is an effective minimalistic landscape. Director and developer Suzanne Bachner’s staging is highly resourceful as it places Brader in various spatial areas with visual élan. Katie Chai’s jolting lighting design accompanies the revealing storytelling with a variety of fluctuating brightness and redness.
From the age of 12 when he takes his first puff offered by a local girl to the present when he is smoke-free, we experience a bevy of well-crafted anecdotes and incidents centering on his beloved Camel Lights. There’s Brader’s abusive ex-Marine two-packs-a-day father and his smoking, forlorn mother. The dysfunctional family becomes closer when Brader takes it up. “I was now a man…it connected us.”
“Pink Floyd is the music drug addicts listen to!” is uttered in a wild section describing learning how to smoke marijuana with colorful rural Pennsylvania high school classmates in the 1970’s, the era of AC/DC, and television’s Kung Fu.
Bad romantic relationships endure due to the mutual addiction. The camaraderie of smokers in work and social situations is marvelously documented. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s 2003 smoking ban in bars and restaurants incites a hilarious rant.
A visit to Los Angeles with his wife for a funeral leads to an ominous police encounter and psychological reexamination that strengthens the marriage. That richly rendered sequence is one of Smoker’s numerous moving highlights.
This production is presented as part of “3 From JMTC.” JMTC Theatre is a company founded in 1994 that “combines art and advocacy to raise funds and awareness.” Smoker plays in repertory with two other solo shows, The Good Adoptee and Spitting in the Face of the Devil. Proceeds from this engagement go to You Gotta Believe, a foster youth organization and to the victim services agency Safe Horizon.
Smoker (through January 12, 2019)
The Bridge Theatre @ Shetler Studios, 244 West 54th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, visit http://www.jmtcinc.com
Running time: 80 minutes with no intermission