Behind the Curtain: ‘As Bad As They’ [a play]

Bloomington, you love all things local! Behind the Curtain, then, wants to spotlight our community’s flourishing subculture of completely homegrown theater — written by Bloomington about Bloomington and produced in Bloomington featuring Bloomington actors.

This Friday, June 30, you can experience the richness of locally made theater with Bella Bravo’s As Bad As They, a full-length production hosted by Monster House Presents as a kick-off event for its new monthly reading series featuring poetry, prose, and multimedia events.

Bravos says, "As Bad As They" rehearsals took place "in garages, parking lots, back yards, anywhere that will make a stage." | Courtesy photo

Bravos says, “As Bad As They” rehearsals took place “in garages, parking lots, back yards, anywhere that will make a stage.” | Courtesy photo

As Bad As They brings to the fore a persistent and invasive problem in Bloomington and the surrounding counties: opioid addiction. Telling the story of brother and sister Caleb and Jordan Turnin, the play begins on the first day that Caleb starts his quest to quit using heroin. Jordan has to fight her impulses as a bossy, controlling, older sister to support her brother. As Bad As They explores this heavy subject with grace and laughs, finding love and humor in the darkness of addiction.

Bravo, who uses they/them pronouns, draws upon their own relationships and experiences to tell this moving story. Bravo’s initial inspiration came from a hilarious conversation with their younger sister. “[My sister] was giving unsolicited advice to our younger sibling,” Bravo says, “so I was telling her that she shouldn’t give unsolicited advice. It really was the perfect conversation.” In an amazing moment of irony, Bravo’s sister “checked me in the best way by saying, ‘You are the queen of giving unsolicited advice.’”

As Bravo laughed at their own ridiculousness in that moment, they also began to examine through their writing the origins and consequences of this impulse to control. Written first as a short story and then as a full-length play, Bravo says As Bad As They explores the ways in which “we impinge upon another person’s autonomy [when] in a state of concern, compassion, and protectiveness for another person.”


As Bad As They is the result of Bravo’s attempts to tease out the motivations and consequences of the struggle between helpfulness and autonomy. Addiction makes this struggle even more pronounced because, according to Bravo, “Addiction controls what a user does, controls their impulses, and controls their motivations.”

Bravo wrote "As Bad As They" first as a short story and then as a play. | Courtesy photo

Bravo wrote “As Bad As They” first as a short story and then as a play. | Courtesy photo

In the play, we see Caleb struggle to free himself from the control of addiction. His sister wants to help, but Jordan’s tendency, like that of most nonaddicts, is to “substitute themselves for the addiction” and exert a new form of control over the addict. While Jordan’s motivations come from a place of love and support, her tactics tend to hinder Caleb’s recovery. Jordan must learn how to help while also encouraging Caleb “to feel autonomous, to make his own decisions, and to have his own aspirations.”

Bravo speaks of addiction and recovery with sympathy and expertise because of their experience as a deputy public defender in Bloomington: “A lot of my day-to-day experience is watching the heroin and opioid epidemic unfold and seeing how the criminal justice systems, recovery projects, treatment service providers, counselors and therapists, and people that are struggling with it all mesh together.” Bravo sees “the ways in which [those local groups] both exacerbate and mitigate this epidemic.”

Bloomington, then, is the perfect setting for As Bad As They because of the rapid rise in opioid addiction within its own borders and in surrounding counties. Our town also attracts people who need help with their addiction because, unlike many areas in the rest of the state of Indiana, it offers numerous recovery and rehabilitation services.

Bravo’s creation, deeply embedded in the sad realities of opioid addiction in southern Indiana, does what a play about drug addiction in some far away city cannot. It makes present the lived realities of locals suffering with addiction, it characterizes Bloomington as a place of help and refuge, and it shows how close this reality is and how we can help. As Bad As They is local theater as a form of activism.

The 100-percent-local theatrical production is taking place this Friday, June 30, at The Blockhouse, 205 S. College, below The Back Door. As Bad As They will not only raise awareness, but it will also raise donations for a local addiction-recovery organization called Courage to Change. According to Bravo, Courage to Change is a sober-living halfway house operated by people in recovery, supporting individuals and families by providing a safe space and effective peer recovery programs.

As Bad As They will also be available online at asbadasthey.live and will play on a continuous loop for the next year.


‘As Bad As They Cast and Crew’

William McHenry, Janelle Beasley, Michael Barton, Charlie Jones, Miles Grimmer, Cody St. Clair, Natalie Bainter, Courtney Foster, Kim Naeseth, and Brandon Schaaf

Courtesy image

Courtesy image

Music by:
Jon Meador

Costumes by:
Morgan Eldridge

Props by:
Wendy Lee Spacek

Sets by:
Alan Crenshaw

Lighting by:
Bella Bravo

Jennifer Pacenza
A former scholar in Renaissance literature and drama, Jennifer Pacenza has had an enduring love for all types of theater and performance. After coming from Texas to Bloomington in 2009, she was inspired by the wealth of performance talent, organizations, and venues found here. She has been writing about theater for the Limestone Post since January of 2017. When not immersed in the world of theater and performance, Jennifer works in communications at Indiana University and enjoys reading comic books, painting miniatures, and playing fantasy RPGs with her husband and son.

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