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Homeless people act out realities of life on stage

The Seldom Seen Actors perform plays with a mission - saving others from addictions and a life on the street that they’ve faced themselves.

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But as the final hour slips away, the actors retreat to their respective corners and begin reviewing their lines in earnest.

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Edith Hunt wraps a white sheet around her shoulders. She leans over and whispers to her husband and fellow trouper, Gary Coppock, “Do I look homeless?”

“Yeah, you do,” he reassures.

Just before 7 p.m., the group gathers in the small closet that is their “green room.”

“Dear God, let us project,” someone says. “Holy Spirit, set us on fire!”

“Amen!” the actors yell.

“As it is said,” William LaCour, the narrator, pronounces, “‘Break a leg.’”

Out front, the audience appears somewhat skeptical. They lean over to look at each other’s cellphones, giggling. They stare at their hands.

Finally, Reuben Garza, of St. Vincent de Paul, takes the microphone. “These individuals had one thing in common,” he says. “First of all, they wanted to change their lives.”

With that, Alfonso Williams, a former professionalactor who became homeless while grappling with addiction, depression, and some jail time, runs down the center aisle. “The stories you’re going to see here tonight are true stories,” he booms. “I know. I’ve lived most of them.”

The drama that unfolds depicts a homeless woman, played by Ms. Hunt, whose husband is dying unnoticed by passersby. Beyond that, the plot line skips from an emotional Bible study, to a dream sequence in which voices tell a recovering addict that he’s destined to fail, to an inspired poem by Mr. Wilson, who’s too ill to be here.

“Cocaine is my darling,” his poem begins. “Cocaine is my pet/ Cocaine is my sweetheart/She’s my Juliet.... Her love song resembles/The music of doom/But she is the bride/I am the groom.”

The final stanzas drive the metaphor home: “This fatal attraction/Is ever so odd/ Why must I love cocaine/I want to love God/I try to break loose/ From her hold on my heart/ She always reminds me/ Till death do us part.”

After half an hour, the play ends with Hunt, in her white sheet, screaming for help as her husband’s heart fails.

•••

Pulling chairs to the front of the stage, the actors begin what they consider the most important part of the performance: the question-and-answer session. Especially with a teen audience, like this one, these sessions are rarely easy. The questions are blunt, and often painful – “How did you take care of your kids when you were homeless?”

The actors don’t shy away, though. Instead, as the first tentative hands go up, they lean forward intently. “Are you guys afraid of falling back?” asks a young girl wearing a Raiders sweat shirt.

“Of course I am, every day,” answers cast member Laverne Thomas.

“Some of us do fall back,” adds Forester. “That’s the reality of being an addict.”

“What did you lose when you were taking drugs?” asks another girl.

The cast answers, in unison: “Everything.”

“It’ll take you off the planet,” one man adds. “You can’t lose more than that.”

They talk about what it was like to have children who didn’t know them, families who didn’t trust them. They tell the students to stay close to God, and to ignore friends who try to persuade them to experiment with drugs. With a final round of applause, the performance concludes.

Outside the gym, the actors pause for a moment in the rain-soaked parking lot. Some will catch rides home or to a shelter. More than one will bed down on the city’s cold sidewalks.

For a moment, though, a warm glow seems to surround the group. For the most part, the drama of each actor’s life is ongoing; the scripts of tragic pasts all too easy to memorize. But tonight has reminded them once again: Their final acts are not yet written.

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