There’s always a moment when the dullest parties take a turn for the worst – where one guest starts to wax poetic about that one time they had an ‘amazing’ trip. Generally, drug stories have the potential to be boring for everyone apart from the people telling them. Yet Jeff Gandell and Nisha Coleman avoid that generalization with their latest contribution to Montreal Fringe.
Things Drugs Taught Me, a show that sees both performers tell of their own experiences with various substances from adolescence to the recent past, draws heavily from each of their theatrical backgrounds.
A Fringe regular, Gandell is co-producer of Yarn, the monthly storytelling night in Le Cagibi. Meanwhile, Coleman’s one-woman show, Self-Exile, won the award for Best English Production.
What results is storytelling at its best. We’re taken to the moment a teenage, weed-smoking Gandell considers climbing to the top of the cross on Mont-Royal. Shortly afterwards, Coleman reveals the extent of her giddy heights while nervously taking amphetamines for a university research study.
The stories come and go, veering between the strange and the hilarious, the worrisome to the moving. But never once do these tales sound self-indulgent or gloating.
Gandell and Coleman are fantastic as their contrasting personalities bounce off one another. When it comes to drug use, Gandell appears to be the more streetwise of the two, with an impressive collection of tales gathered from various trips.
Coleman is more of an anxious ‘everywoman’, whose forays with substances seem more coincidental than intentional.
While the strong stories drive truly drive the show, the audience’s reactions are also key to the entire performance.
Certain moments of each story are greeted with hearty laughter, head nodding and the occasional, knowing ‘oh yeah, that’. The stories may be about getting high, but they aren’t tall tales. They’re personal, but also undeniably relatable. There were even moments when it felt as though members of the crowd could get up and share their own adventures.
That’s not to say only experienced stoners could enjoy this show. Although the subject of substance use (and abuse) is the most prominent topics, it’s closely followed by more universal themes. Stark moments of insecurity, feelings of failure and the desire to be normal make for the most poignant, and hilarious, moments in the play.
Given both performers’ previous experience, one could have guessed Things Drugs Taught Me would have been one of the best performances at this year’s Fringe. The quality of this show, however, makes the possibility of it winning the festival’s major awards more than just a pipe dream.
‘Things Drugs Taught Me’ continues its run at Mission Santa Cruz (60 Rachel W) on June 16 (7.30pm) and June 18 (7pm). The show will then be staged at the Toronto Fringe Festival from July 5 to July 16.