Scott Bradley in ‘Packing.’ (Photo: Cody Jolly Photography)
by Lauren Emily Whalen
Packing begins and ends with a gun – but not necessarily in the way you’d think.
Playwright-performer Scott Bradley grew up in Iowa and Colorado, riding horses and soaking up the great outdoors. He loved Cher and disco dancing as much as he loved his homeland and survived a home life that was shaky at best, including a perennial inner monologue that never failed to remind him that he wasn’t good enough.
Through it all, Bradley held onto his grandmother’s squirrel gun: a talisman that always made the older woman feel safe, bequeathed to her grandson upon her death. Packing is Bradley’s solo tale of surviving and thriving as a genderqueer artist still coping with childhood trauma. Many queer people have complex relationships with home and family, and Packing beautifully illustrates this while highlighting all that’s unique about Bradley’s journey.
On opening night of Packing, the most prevalent sound in the crowd was a “huh” of recognition. As a young child, Bradley experienced family discord from the get-go: a depressed mother who’d lost a child and blamed him for it, and an occasionally absent father who drank to excess. Bradley found comfort in colorful clothing and disco but was forced to endure severe bullying from intolerant classmates and an abusive stepfather.
When Bradley studied in London as an undergraduate, he found an accepting community for the first time in his life but was terrified of having sex due to the AIDS epidemic. As he bounced from New York to Seattle to Chicago, now dealing with his own addiction while finding solace in the theater, Bradley sought out a sense of home: something he’d felt as a child in the Iowa pastures but hadn’t fully experienced since.
Bradley is no stranger to writing his own material: he’s penned musical takes on Halloween for Chicago’s Hell in a Handbag Productions, and the hilarious holiday hit We Three Lizas for About Face, among other works. But until now, his own story hasn’t been material for his art. Packing seems to come at the right time in Bradley’s life: he’s lived, lost and loved — now possessing the ability to look back with a sense of wisdom and an understanding that like all of us, is still evolving. Though the show ends on a happy note, Bradley reminds us of the squirrel gun: a symbol of the destruction he’s survived that still looms if he doesn’t take care of himself.
Packing‘s evolution began at the prestigious Iowa Playwrights Project and was refined in collaboration with director Chay Yew. Over 90 minutes the audience experiences Bradley’s life – from his first Cher concert at age three to an unexpected introduction to his now-husband. With only a single chair on a bare stage, he talks about abuse, addiction and AIDS in a way that’s both funny and deeply refreshing.
Though there’s plenty of sadness to be found in life, there’s also unabashed joy. Through Bradley and Yew’s artistic synergy, Packing enables audiences to experience life’s most profound moments.
1229 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago
Through December 7, 2019
Lauren Emily Whalen is a 2018 alumna of the National Critics Institute and author of the young adult novel SATELLITE. Follow her on Twitter at @laurenemilywri.