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Bob Keyes

Bob Keyes has written about the arts in Maine since 2002. He’s never been much an artist himself, other than singing in junior high school chorus and acting in a few musicals. But he’s attended museums, theaters, clubs and concert halls all his life, and cites Bob Dylan as most influential artist of any kind since Picasso. He lives in Berwick.

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Posted: September 15, 2017

Doctor’s play gives addiction a dramatic ‘Intervention’

Written by: Bob Keyes
Sarah Barlow, Aileen Andrews and Thomas Ian Campbell rehearse "Intervention," a comedy that takes on addiction. Photo by Hal Cohen

Sarah Barlow, Aileen Andrews and Thomas Ian Campbell rehearse “Intervention,” a comedy that takes on addiction. Photo by Hal Cohen

As a doctor, Hal J. Cohen faces pressure to help end the opioid crisis. As a playwright, it’s his job to help people understand the world more clearly.

Both of those realities come to bear in his latest play, “Intervention,” a 90-minute one-act on stage this weekend and next at the Portland Ballet Studio Theatre on Forest Avenue.

The play is a spin-off of a piece he wrote for PortFringe, Portland’s alt-theater fest, in 2014. “And obviously since then, there has been so much attention paid to the opioid crisis, as well as an immense amount of pressure on physicians to turn it around,” said Cohen, a doctor of osteopathy at Southern Maine Health Care in Old Orchard Beach.

In his rewrite since “Intervention” debuted three years ago, Cohen added a scene that explores the layers of the opioid crisis from the physician’s perspective. It’s a play about addiction, delusion and deception, he said.

It’s a comedy, but with a very serious turn that explores the ways addiction impacts family members and other people who are close to addicts.

This play is unique, because it offers the perspective of a medical professional, which isn’t often heard in many community discussions about addiction. A decade ago, Cohen said, physicians were encouraged to prescribe medication for people with chronic pain. Today, they’re discouraged from prescribing pain meds, because they often lead to addiction.

But it’s not that simple, he said. “Ten years ago, or as recently as five years ago, to untreat pain was considered a disservice to your patient. Now, it’s almost as if we are being threatened (that) if we do not change our prescribing ways, we will pay the consequences,” Cohen said. “It’s created an adversarial relationship between patients with chronic pain and physicians. We are under great pressure to try to get them off (their prescriptions). But for people who have been on chronic narcotics for 10 years or 15 years, that’s not realistic.”

Cohen’s hope for the play is to continue community dialogue. Toward that end, the two-week run ends Sept. 24 with a post-show panel discussion with mental-health professionals, who will talk about the stigma that surrounds people who are addicted or in recovery.

The cast features Aileen Andrews, Sarah Barlow, Thomas Ian Campbell, Anna Gravél and Steven Leighton.


WHAT: “Intervention”
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday; Sept. 21-24
WHERE: Portland Ballet Studio Theater, 517 Forest Ave., Portland

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