Michael P. Northey’s smartly written Cranked, now at the Duke on 42nd Street, is a cautionary solo show about the dangers of crystal methadone. As one can tell, this is not the kind of fare one expects as a New Victory Theatre offering, which usually produces lighter family-friendly fare. And placing this intense 45-minute show in the confines of the more intimate Duke smartly allows this show, which uses Hip Hop and spoken word to sell its message, a real chance to flourish.
A worthwhile experience for both teens — as well as somewhat older theatergoers — Cranked is the fictional story of a young man named Stan (Kyle Cameron) waiting in the wings of a freestyle Hip Hop competition about to make his comeback after hitting rock bottom as crystal meth addict. Before going on to perform in the present, however, the play dives into a flashback of rhythm and rhyme.
Going by the handle of “Definition,” Stan was a teenage phenomenon who had won a record contract with a sizable advance. He squandered his money and his future — but most injuriously his health — when he got hooked on crystal meth. Using monster movies (particularly zombie films) as a metaphor for what the drug did to him, Stan details his rapid, shocking decline.
Indeed, the piece doesn’t sugarcoat the truth about this horrible addiction. Stealing from his family, hallucinations, sleeping on the street, and a sort of self-induced physical torture all come into play. When he describes how he would scrape his scabs and smoke them because his skin had enough crystal meth in it to get him high, you know you’re hearing a tale told from hell. Using conventional music by Kyprios and Stylust and compelling lyrics by Kyprious and Northey, Stan’s story manages to sidestep melodrama while at the same time avoiding a preachy tone.
The brevity of the play works in tandem with director Patrick McDonald’s spare, fast-paced style. Neither the lighting design by Martin Conboy nor the set design by Justus Hayes attempt to glorify Stan’s drug abuse by adding extra glitz to the proceedings; instead they underscore his emotional and physical pain. By the same token, the show’s all-important sound design by Joel Etkin is not so much rock-concert loud as it is pointed and powerful.
Best of all, Cameron is an appealing, wholesome looking young man, who manages to be doubly impressive as a Hip Hop artist. He’s an actor we’ll surely be seeing more of in the future.