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Stop-Gap Acts Out Long-Term Effects of Child Abuse

July 19, 1989|RICK VANDERKNYFF | Times Staff Writer

In 1982, the Stop-Gap drama-therapy group's "When the Bough Breaks" took a look at victims of parental abuse, including sexual molestation.

The unusual musical, the Santa Ana-based troupe's first original play produced for a communitywide audience, took its inspiration--and the exact words of its songs--from therapy sessions at the county's Albert Sitton Home, which then housed abused and abandoned children (it has since been replaced by the newer Orangewood Children's Home).

Now, seven years later, "When the Bough Breaks" has been rewritten and retitled by local playwright John Weston (author of Stop-Gap's 1987 production "Listen to the Dreaming"). "Shadow and Song," which opens tonight and runs through July 29 on South Coast Repertory's Second Stage, is still about the effects of sexual and physical abuse, but the focus has shifted.

"It concentrates less on the child and more on the adult (years later)," said Christi Wilkins, special projects coordinator for Stop-Gap. In the years since "When the Bough Breaks" was first written, the lingering effects of childhood abuse on adults have been much studied and discussed.

Statistics show that one of four girls is sexually abused before the age of 18, Wilkins said, 87% of them by persons they know. One of seven boys has been abused by that age. "We're finding over and over in our workshops" about the long-term effects of those numbers, Wilkins said.

More than 90% of abusers, she explained, were themselves abused as children. In addition, many abuse victims have difficulty as adults maintaining relationships. "Shadow and Song" tackles that problem but with a constructive approach.

"What the play is doing is showing how you can use family and friends in a positive way," Wilkins said. "We're really excited about it because it's very uplifting."

The play adopts the tactics of previous Stop-Gap productions about rape, terminal illness, AIDS and other issues not often addressed in community theater. "We use drama as a non-threatening and educational tool to help people empower themselves," Wilkins said. "It serves as a catalyst."

Parents United, a peer support group for incest survivors, and VOICES, an acronym for Victims of Incest Can Emerge Successful, have bought out performances of "Shadow and Song" as fund-raisers.

Negotiations are under way for a Los Angeles run of "Shadow and Song," which would make it the first major Stop-Gap production to be staged outside Orange County. The group already has opened a Los Angeles office and has taken its play on AIDS to South Bay schools. It has also started drama-therapy sessions at the Crittenton Center for Young Women and Infants in Los Angeles and recently received a $25,000 grant from the Ahmanson Foundation to create a program on drunk driving.

While Stop-Gap's success is gratifying, Wilkins said, "It's a sad tale when you think how many problems remain out there." The cycle of abuse continues, but with "Shadow and Song," Wilkins said, Stop-Gap hopes to "break some cycles and turn that bend around."

Plays Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8:30 p.m. through July 29 at South Coast Repertory's Second Stage, 650 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. Tonight's preview $12; remaining performances $15. Information: (714) 648-0135.

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