By Chance Morgan
We may think we know all there is to know about smoking. It’s all around us, both in our lives and in pop culture. We have seen the public service announcements, heard the lectures in health class, or watched someone we know waste away from a smoking‑related illness. But Bob Brader’s “Smoker” is unique among such stories. Although it concerns why he quit smoking, it is also a confession of his enjoyment of it, as well as an examination of why he smoked at all.
As Mr. Brader himself describes the show, “Smoker” explores how smokers feel about smoking, which is a perspective rarely considered. Mr. Brader recounts his exposure to cigarettes at a young age, not only by his smoker parents, but also by his peers. He freely admits that for him, like for most smokers, it is a coping mechanism. Cigarettes offer a temporary escape from everyday stress such as work or moving, and from emotionally trying experiences such as funerals. Mr. Brader acknowledges the social benefits of smoking, such as having a ‘smoker identity’ and enjoying the group bonding of smoking with others. In addition to all of that, he simply enjoyed the act of it. Smokers are aware of the risks and negative consequences, but choose momentary payoff and rationalize it later. Every smoker smokes for a reason, and every former smoker quits for a reason. Mr. Brader discusses their motivations at length. At one point he shares something he heard from a former smoker: “If it weren’t for my lungs, I’d still be smoking.” Rather than preach about how the man’s choice to smoke had contributed to his ill health, Mr. Brader admits that he understands that feeling.
Throughout his eighty‑minute performance, Mr. Brader effortlessly alternates between energetically recounting humorous experiences and soberly addressing serious and dark subject matter. Each chapter of his story incorporates a skillful blend of narration, impersonation, physicality, pathos and humor that keep the audience’s attention. However, the moments of greatest impact came when he spoke simply, honestly and directly about his life‑changing experiences and epiphanies.
“Smoker” has the rare quality of feeling at once comfortable and natural, but also carefully planned and well‑thought‑out, without ever losing balance. It is a personal account made universal through its eloquent and enthusiastic delivery, and its sincere, thoughtful honesty. “Smoker” is both a lighthearted success story and a thoughtful cautionary tale, and neither aspect feels forced. It is a show that draws the audience in with sincerity, shares with them a meaningful message without pretense or judgment, and leaves them thinking.
Written and Performed by Bob Brader
Directed and Developed by Suzanne Bachner
Jan 2 at 2PM, Jan 8 at 7PM, Jan 12, 2019 at 2PM
Show image by Michael Koch
Bridge Theatre @ Shetler Studios
244 W 54th St
New York City
CHANCE MORGAN is a writer and director currently based in New Jersey. He has worked for Dorset Theatre Festival, Northern Stage, and Bay Street Theatre. He is a graduate of Colorado Mesa University’s theatre program, and spends his time developing his screenplays and musicals.