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Stop-Gap Previews ‘Scarecrow’ Tonight : Theater That Deals With Social Issues Takes Up Parental Alcoholism

Stop-Gap Productions’ only rule is to stage relevant plays. In past seasons, it has showcased dramas dealing with AIDS, date rape, drugs and racism, among others.

This year, the focus is parental alcoholism.

Through the West Coast premiere of Ara Watson’s “Scarecrow,” the nonprofit, Santa Ana-based drama-therapy company hopes to show how alcoholism can stretch family bonds to the breaking point, said Don Laffoon, Stop-Gap’s co-founder and the play’s director. After a preview tonight, “Scarecrow” will open its regular run Friday at Laguna Beach’s Forum Theatre and continue until April 15.

“This is very much about the effects on the family members (and) not so much about the alcoholic himself,” Laffoon explained. “We want to give some insight into the children of alcoholics, people who have grown up in a dysfunctional family because one or both of their parents have been drinkers.

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“If there’s that history, the lasting effects tend to sabotage their careers, get them into unsuccessful marriages . . . all sorts of problems.”

In “Scarecrow,” the audience meets Clyde, an alcoholic who has been away from his family for a few years. After he becomes ill with emphysema, Clyde returns to his Tulsa home to recuperate. He soon starts drinking again.

The effects on his wife, two daughters and a son are immediate. Their reactions to him and his problem, and the trauma his drinking causes in their own lives, are almost textbook examples of parental alcoholism’s impact, Laffoon said. “His wife takes him back out of pity, she lets him back against her better judgment, even though she’s experienced the trauma before, which is a typical reaction. The oldest daughter feels sorry for him and wants to rescue him, a difficult task.

“The second daughter is in college and lives at home; she’s the child who is really in touch with her anger in how she reacts to her father. The boy, who is in high school, is really torn because he’s young enough not to remember the worst parts of his dad’s earlier alcoholism and is just glad to have his father home. It’s a real test for the son because he has to make a choice, he has to protect his mom.”

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Laffoon concedes that “Scarecrow” is a grim, demanding work--just the type of vehicle Stop-Gap specializes in--but he points out that it doesn’t present a hopeless vision. The play’s resolution, although “not Mary Poppins-ish,” finds the individual family members overcoming their problems.

This too is part of Stop-Gap’s theme.

“Surviving is really what Stop-Gap is all about; we can be victimized--by rape, AIDS, cancer, whatever--but we have to work through all those things. Stop-Gap wants people to know that there is help out there.”

With that in mind, Laffoon noted that the production was aided by National Assn. for Children of Alcoholics, a national, nonprofit advocacy and education group based in South Laguna.

Laffoon explained that children of alcoholics may not even be drinkers themselves, but they can suffer from low self-esteem, depression or other neuroses because of the abuse they encounter through their dependent parents.

“We hope that if someone in the audience recognizes something in ‘Scarecrow,’ they might take the next step to get some help,” Laffoon said.

He added that the production is not too frank for children, as long as they aren’t too young and first have the subject matter explained to them by their parents. Some of the language is graphic, but nothing “they wouldn’t hear on television,” he said.

“Scarecrow,” which features two Orange County and four Los Angeles-area actors, is Stop-Gap’s main offering for the year, separate from its smaller productions that regularly tour local schools, colleges and hospitals. Among those have been “His Brother’s Keeper” (focusing on AIDS), “Use My Real Name” (racism and ethnic stereotyping) and “When No Means No” (date rape).

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Its showcased stagings have included Mary Gallagher’s “How to Say Goodbye” (how a family copes with the death of a child) at South Coast Repertory last year, and “Listen to the Dreaming,” John Weston’s play on AIDS the year before. Others have been William Gibson’s “The Miracle Worker” and Christopher Durang’s farcical “Beyond Therapy.”

Stop-Gap’s “Scarecrow” opens Friday and plays Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. through April 15 at the Forum Theatre on the Festival of Arts grounds at 650 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach. Tickets: $8 for tonight’s preview; $50 for Saturday’s benefit; and $10 for the regular run. Information: (714) 648-0135.


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