The opioid crisis has come to children’s theater.
This month, Pollyanna Theatre Company is exploring the epidemic that has left a generation of kids growing up without parents or growing up with a parent whose addiction brings unpredictability to their lives.
“The Secret of the Soap & Spin” is a new work from playwright Jonathan Graham, whose works “The Boy Who Loved Monsters and The Girl Who Loved Peas” and “The Thing in Grandma’s Closet” also have been on Pollyanna’s stage.
Pollyanna Artistic Director Judy Matetzschk-Campbell says she and Graham had been talking about doing another new work together. “We were intrigued by the notion that there are, for a wide variety of reasons, kids having to raise themselves,” she says.
It led them to think about a laundromat as a place where kids might congregate after school when there is no one to care for them at home. The conversation became more and more specific around “what the life of these children was really like,” she says.
Graham lives in Indiana, an area of the country that has been hit hard by opioid addiction.
“I thought it was important to address,” he says, but “I didn’t want to address it in a graphic way.”
Instead, the story does it in a metaphorical way. “It is completely possible that some audience members will not necessarily know (the play is about addiction), and that’s probably OK,” he says. “The core of the story is the love between a parent and a child where the parent is the one who really needs help.”
“The Secret of the Soap & Spin” tells the story of 10-year-old Vic and his mom, who come to the laundromat to do their laundry, but then she gets distracted. The staging for the play will have two levels: The upper level is the real world; the lower level is the fantastical world into which the mother’s addiction drags them. That world features characters that represent his mom’s struggle.
Lint is one of those characters. Like drug addiction, it sticks to you and won’t let you go. Dusty the dust bunny seems friendly at first, but then becomes menacing and chases you. The Broom is a good person in the underworld who tries to sweep bad elements away. Mop is clearly struggling with addiction but ends up being Vic’s guide in the underworld.
Vic and his mother are the only people who are played by realistic-looking actors. The others are played by puppets or people in mascotlike costumes.
The play was designed for kids in second through fifth grades. One of the things it addresses is that kids of addicts might feel like they have to try to fix things or if they could just be good enough, their parent would be better.
“Mop tells Vic it’s not his job to have to fix people and it’s OK to be a little boy,” Matetzschk-Campbell says.
The story doesn’t end with the mom suddenly becoming fixed, but it does have a happy ending. The mom comes back to the real world with Vic, and they finish their laundry. They go on with their day.
“It’s not suggesting that everything is going to be OK, but it is moving into the future with a sense of hope,” Graham says.
For kids who understand what this play is about, who have that experience in their families, it’s important for them to see a reflection of themselves in the safe place of the theater, Matetzschk-Campbell says.
Pollyanna Theatre Company presents plays throughout the year for both public audiences and school groups; the productions are new works and not adaptations of books. That’s one of the things Graham appreciates about the theater group. “It’s so important to provide stories for young audiences that are fresh and about things that are going on in the world right now,” he says.
Pollyanna’s next offering won’t be as serious. This summer, “If Wishes Were Fishes” will tell the story of a fish caught in a net who grants wishes and what three friends do with those wishes. In the fall, the show for the very young will be “Dog Jobs,” about the jobs characters do around the neighborhood. For school-age kids, “The Mystery of the Green-teethed Ghost” will have kids doing math and science. Next winter, the civil rights story “Liberty! Equality! and Fireworks!” returns to the LBJ Library and Museum. Pollyanna will round out the season with “The Texas Chili Queens,” a true Texas story of women who went into the chili-making business and fought the city of San Antonio.
Pollyanna Theatre: “The Secret of the Soap & Spin”
When: 2 p.m. May 12-13, 19-20
Where: Long Center, 701 Riverside Drive