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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A 'Docudrama' on Drug Addiction

The Chekhov Art Theater has a history of innovative drama, so it makes some sense that "The Concept," an uncommon, emotional play from New York City, is having its Russian debut there. All the same, the play is unlike anything Moscow audiences have ever seen: its theme is drug and alcohol abuse, and the actors and actresses are recovering addicts. The play arrives at a time when the rate of alcoholism in Russia is growing steadily, and drugs, especially marijuana, are easily available. Heavy vodka drinking is nothing new here, but according to the state narcology office, alcohol-related deaths doubled in Russia between 1989 and 1992. America, on the other hand, has been mastering the art of self-help for years, and now the people involved with "The Concept" have come to Moscow with some advice on the subject. "The Concept" was created in 1968 by Larry Sacharow, an experienced off-Broadway director, as a dramatic patchwork of the true experiences of recovering addicts. Sacharow's close partner in the project was -- and continues to be -- Daytop Village, a treatment center in New York. The play opened in 1968 at Cafe La Mama, got great reviews, and then had a three-year run in prominent off-Broadway theaters. Since then it has been rewritten periodically and has been performed in the White House, prisons, schools and at the United Nations. The play traces the lives of the characters from their days as drug users through the distressing, difficult treatment process to their present sobriety. After the play, the seven cast members stay onstage for a question and answer period with the audience. All the actors are graduates of Daytop or are seeking care there now. When the cast and representatives of Daytop -- which stands for Drug Addicts Yielding to Persuasion -- met with the press at the Chekhov Art Theater on Tuesday, they used language that might have sounded strange to Russians who are not used to self-help patois. Sacharow said that the play shows "the process of people's healing and self-help in theater form. "Whether it plays in theaters, schools and prisons, it has a universal message," he continued. "This problem is drugs and alcohol, but many families [that don't have substance abuse difficulties] see the play as a way of opening communication. Love and communication are useful for all people." Alexander Galin, one of Russia's best-known playwrights, helped bring "The Concept" here because he was attracted by its dramatic effect. He attended a similar Daytop production in New York depicting the trials of the parents of drug addicts. Galin feels that it is important for Russians to see the America that is not shown in the old series that inundate local television. "It is important for people to know that America has real people with real problems," he said. "This is real America, real and serious." Theatergoers expecting music and elaborate sets will probably be disappointed, as Sacharow describes "The Concept" as a "straight docudrama" without theatrical tricks. The message that drugs and alcohol are destructive is never far from the surface. Etan Merrick, the show's producer, says that Daytop's mission is to "give hope to people who are addicted to drugs and alcohol, and to show them that there is such a thing as recovery." "The Concept," which will be performed in English with Russian headphones available, runs through Sunday at the Chekhov Art Theater. The theater is located at 3 Kamergersky Pereulok. The curtain rises at 7 P.M. Tel. 229-8760. Nearest metro: Teatralnaya.