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Energy and Grace 

Moving beyond stand-up, an addict plumbs his own depths

Wednesday, Nov 24 2004
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The first time Mark Lundholm smacks his bald head on a light at one wing of the stage -- hard enough to make it rattle -- people gasp. The second time he does it, they wince. The third time, they start to laugh. "An addict never learns," he explains, and by the end of the show it's a surprise not to see a bruise across his forehead.

Addicted is just what it says: a show about back-monkeys. Lundholm is a comedian with broad shoulders and a no-bullshit style. He offers 80 minutes of stand-up and autobiography on the theme of his own addictions to booze, speed, coke, bad relationships, and television. "An addict is energy without grace," he says, moving around the stage like a human torpedo. The man has huge, infectious energy. At first it's a little off-putting. But he leavens it with grace, and Addicted becomes a surprisingly moving show.

Before he was a comedian, Lundholm was a failed father and a homeless street criminal. He amuses the audience with stories about the time he woke up naked on a sidewalk, say, with a candy cane up his ass ("How'd it get there? I don't know"), then shifts unobtrusively to starker material, like the story of holding his baby daughter after a long binge, still high, and deciding in a fit of self-loathing to walk out on wife, child, and responsibility. "Now I've got a 16-year-old daughter, and she lives with her mother," he deadpans, "-- the plaintiff."

This bleak undertow gives Addicted a dimension beyond stand-up. Not only did Lundholm steal the family truck and start a brutal life on the streets; not only did he try to hold up a liquor store and carjack a Lexus; not only did he live for a while under an Oakland overpass; not only did he try to blow his own head off (with a pistol that jammed) -- the whole stupid tragedy was sui generis, born and nursed in his own head. It's very sad. But it also hits a universal nerve.

Lundholm has a side career as a motivational speaker, and this show started as a presentation for AA members. Its flaws are recovery-speak flaws, like an inclination to tack on a moral. (At the end he sits down to explain his lessons to everyone.) He also sees addiction everywhere. To him fear and anger are addictive. So is work. So is sex. ("Sex is a fuckin' pharmacy.") True, but as a worldview the idea seems obsessive, because some addictions matter less than others. What they all might have in common, as obstacles to growth, Lundholm never explores.

He does better when he steers this recovery-group worldview into jokes. "The opposite of a workaholic is a golfer," he says. "Hit the ball, go get it, hit the ball, go get it. Golf is not a sport; it's an abusive relationship."

Lundholm frames the show by acting out urgent voices inside an addict's head, like the fun-loving kid ("Wheee!"), the crisismonger, the quivering coward, the voice of calm. With help from Paul Miller's lights and fancy sound by Randy Hansen and Duncan Edwards he turns each voice into a separate character, working an influence on the hapless addict's fate. The device is fun, but not original. It's a more elaborate version of the old angel and devil sitting on a cartoon hero's shoulders. It also wastes time in a brief show that wants, or claims, to be confessional. An hour and a half of autobiography spliced with comedy is bound to be incomplete, and a pop-psych breakdown of the addict's character only takes away from the fascinating details of Lundholm's own life.

But, as AA members like to say, one day at a time. Lundholm has material in reserve for another show. Until now he was a speaker and a comic; now he's an actor, with a touring off-Broadway production extended for a third time in San Francisco. It's easy to dismiss addiction and addicts as a tired routine -- "Out they go, all the lushes," John Cheever once resolved about his own work, in spite of the fact that he was always drunk, "they throw so little true light on the way we live" -- but when the story is this personal, and this uproarious, the tragedy can still feel new.

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