Memories of Politics and Addiction

Most tales of addiction and redemption seem to be limited by the same undercurrents of narcissism that turned their protagonists into users in the first place. As readers or viewers, we are relieved to see these narrators pull themselves out of an undeniable hell, but the heightened self-awareness of their stories can also trigger a jolt of frustration: these undeniably intelligent individuals should have known better, and yet we have no choice but to applaud. Because writer and actor Mike Evans offers societal context to his self-abusive spiral, however, his one-man show escapes some of the clichés associated with a tale of drug use. His lifelong yearning for political power gives relatable context to his addiction-prone personality--and alludes to our nation's general obsession with public figures.

In adapting his story onto the stage, Evans has juxtaposed three separate narratives with one another: His story of drug use, homelessness, imprisonment and recovery, his crusade to attain power by working close to political figures like Clinton, and the legacy of suffering his deceased mother left in the pages of her diary. Evans frequently jumps from one place and time to another, keeping the audience on track by identifying a year and location in the beginning of a scene. Perhaps intentionally, the approach sometimes causes Evans to come across as two separate characters, an aimless junkie and a falsely confident freeloader who are both prone to stealing to get their way. His transition from an office in the White House to homelessness feels abrupt, but this may be Evans's point.

Evans, 43, narrates the events of his life from stacks of white paper, sectioned into scenes with paper clips. Whether these are a staging device or help Evans stay on track with the text is unclear, but the effect is powerful. As we watch Evans give his confession in a manner that recalls a rehearsed speech (at times, he even corrects his own grammar), we see these white sheets bring his vulnerability to the surface. The play's opening, during which he describes shoplifting to earn money for heroin just seven years ago, is particularly eerie in its delivery: Evans sits behind a table covered with a plastic tablecloth of red and blue stars, shuffling sheets of paper and speaking in a tone that brings to mind a news anchor's rehearsed confidence.

Throughout, Evans's voice is perhaps the most affecting aspect of Sex, Drugs, Clinton and Me. When narrating an exchange with a campaign worker or a group of Hollywood movie stars (his knack at sneaking into political conventions earned him screen time in Robert Downey Jr.'s 1993 documentary, The Last Party), his tone is conversational and casual; when describing the fleeting comfort of a heroin rush, his language is heavy with metaphors and his delivery reminiscent of a beat poet's. On occasion, Evans opts for self-deprecating humor; his accounts of weaseling his way back into the ranks of Clinton volunteers after getting fired are funny in their absurdity. But although some of the audience responded with laughter, these segments felt especially heartbreaking. Hearing the story of an individual who sees deceit as his only option is, after all, profoundly unsettling. And yet, there is something honest and universal in his desire to gain first-hand access to power.

Sex, Drugs, Clinton and Me isn't really about Clinton--the second object of Evans's obsession could have been any influential figure--but in a larger perspective, pairing presidential politics with drug dependence is a choice that shows awareness beyond what we usually see in the addiction memoir.

Click for print friendly PDF version of this blog post