Drama documents road back from drug addiction

The Concept Play conceived and directed by Lawrence Sacharow. Text by Casey Kurtti and the company. ``The Concept,'' at the downtown Circle in the Square, is the 1986 version of a 1968 work conceived and created by Lawrence Sacharow. Now, as then, the staged events are drawn from the experiences of recovering drug addicts at Daytop Village, described as ``the oldest and largest therapeutic community in the United States.''

The impact of this 90-minute dramatization stems first and foremost from its authenticity. In the text on which Casey Kurtti and the eight-member racially mixed company have collaborated, each individual speaks, not as a professional actor but as a Daytop resident. They say things like: ``I just got sidetracked. It's a temporary thing. ... I started smokin' pot. I started dealin'. ... I was 17, pregnant, and shooting heroin. ... The last thing I remember was my sister's car in the driveway. ... I was whacked out of my mind. ... I was trying to pray but no words came out. ... I was tired of living on the streets....''

The four young men and four young women of ``The Concept'' represent a cross-section of backgrounds, from ghetto street life and hustling to middle-American affluence. Each case history in its own way typifies the sad emptiness underlying so much addiction. Each individual has reached Daytop by a different route. For Carl Cohen, the obstreperous newcomer, it was a choice of Daytop or Attica prison. Carl rebels at his assigned task of cleaning bathrooms, resents Melechi Bellamy (who supervises the work assignments), and otherwise expresses his fierce resentments and insecurities. He is a focal figure in the documentary.

Director Sacharow's carefully orchestrated performance of the Kurtti script acquaints the spectator with various aspects of the Daytop experience: the introduction to the community, rap sessions, group therapy, personal confessions, and sometimes fierce individual confrontations. The goal is the achievement of individual responsibility and self-respect, combined with genuine caring for others.

The performance ends with verbal expressions of love and embraces that even include audience members. Whatever their slight awkwardness, the gestures are genuinely, touchingly tender. In addition to those already mentioned, the cast includes Ursula Carambo, Deborah Davis, Anthony Fischetti, Jennifer McNeill, Richard Murphy, and Michele Zampello.

The production was designed by Derek McLane, with lighting by Frances Aronson and costumes by Marianne Powell-Parker.

``The Concept'' transcends conventional playmaking to provide a glimpse into a rehabilitation effort with (according to the program) a documented success record of ``40,000 former addicts returned to living productive lives.''

The production will remain at the Circle in the Square through Nov. 16, tour briefly, and return to New York at another theater in January.

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