Actor and director Sean Riley has never done crystal methamphetamine, but in directing the new play Tweaked at The Meta Theatre, there were times he was so wired, he felt like he was on the drug.
“There have been mornings I feel like I’m actually tweaking, because I get home at midnight and I don’t get to bed until 2 a.m., coming down from working,” said Riley. “I wake up at 6 a.m. and go, ‘OK, I’ve got to take care of this and gotta do this and I have to do this because I want [the play] to be good.’ I’m spun and it’s been like this for the past six weeks.”
Riley’s pseudo tweaking experience culminated Friday night with the opening of Tweaked. A near sold-out house and positive audience response left him feeling like it was all worthwhile.
“It feels good. We had a good opening night,” said the Reno, Nevada native who moved to West Hollywood in 1994.
Tweaked offers an unflinching look at two roommates’ struggle to kick meth. Maddy (Robin Schultz) longs to get custody of her daughter back while Charlotte (Isidora Goreshter) longs for love until she meets a guy who touches her soul more than she expected, thus leaving her resistant. With finely tailored performances, the audience aches for these two, hoping they will come out on top.
All the while, meth is there tempting them. In fact, Tweaked has an actor portray the drug’s attempt to seduce them back into using. This dramatic technique – the actor caressing them or simply holding a meth pipe up as they go through their daily life – provides an effective understanding of the constant temptation users face.
Some are dismissing Tweaked as a drug play, but Riley doesn’t think so.
“This isn’t a drug play,” responds Riley, who got his professional acting start at age 14 in Reno. “It’s about their relationship with each other, their relationship with the drug, their relationship with addiction.”
The most astonishing thing about Tweaked is that the show is actually a student production. Done with students from Anthony Meindl’s Actor Workshop at Meta Theatre on Melrose, this production seems as polished as any show performed at a 99-seat theater about town.
“We did it because there is an amazing group of talent here,” said Riley, who also teaches at Actor Workshop. “We could have triple cast it with the talent we have here.”
Because Actor Workshop is a full-time acting school, offering 18 different classes each week to 325 students, finding time to rehearse proved challenging. They ended up rehearsing at 9:45 p.m. for 90 minutes a day for six weeks, because that was the only time there was available space in the building.
But that extended rehearsal gave the actors more time to develop the characters, creating nuances that a faster rehearsal schedule might not have permitted. It also gave the actors time to research meth addiction. One actor even arranged to hang out with some tweakers as they were smoking to observe.
“He came back and said, ‘We’re smoking wrong,’” Riley reports. “Then we went through the full process of how you hold the pipe and the smoke and how important the smoke is and what it tells you about the drug.”
Because they have such realistic performances and accurate portrays of the smoking process, the play has the potential to trigger former tweakers back into using. But play producers partnered with The Tweakers Project, an anti-meth group, to have information and literature in the lobby.
Tweakers Project Founder Jimmy Palmieri gave his stamp of approval after seeing the opening night performance. Palmieri liked the different relationship aspects they played up. “I think the plays showed a different dynamic of meth use by putting a child in the mix,” he said. “I actually liked the fact that the dealer wanted to be cared about as we never see that side.”
Tweaked is from New York-based playwright Paul Shoulberg. This production is the West Coast premier (the only other production to date was done in Chicago). The show plays Friday through Sunday until August 21 at the Meta Theatre located at 7801 Melrose Ave. (theater entrance on Ogden).
For tickets visit the website www.newleafendeavors.com