Ben Moroski still can't say why he used to cut himself. Even though the Davis native has written and performed a one-person play based on his self-mutilation, he can't reduce his reasons to a simple sentence, and in "This Vicious Minute" he doesn't try to.
The play received a successful staging in Southern California, and now Moroski, 25, who attended Davis High and UC Davis, brings "This Vicious Minute" home for the first time in a limited two-week run starting Wednesday at Sacramento's Ooley Theatre.
Though not exactly a neophyte when it comes to writing or performing, Moroski downplayed his theatrical background in a recent telephone interview. "I acted in high school and a little bit in college," he said.
His résumé reads a bit longer. Moroski received a Kennedy Center Arts Award for playwriting while earning an undergraduate degree in English from UC Davis. He was also an acting apprentice with the well-known Williamstown Theatre Festival in New York and previously performed locally at Sacramento City College and on other Sacramento stages.
The idea of writing about his self-mutilation developed last year in one of Moroski's treatment groups, but the inspiration for a one-person show was planted much earlier. While he was in high school, Ben's father, Mike Moroski, took him to see old friend Bo Eason perform his one-man play "Runt of Litter," about growing up in a competitive football playing family.
The elder Moroski and Eason were teammates on the Houston Oilers in 1985, during quarterback Moroski's eight-year pro football career, which ended with the San Francisco 49ers in 1986. Moroski had earlier been a football standout at UC Davis before becoming a long-time coach there (Full disclosure: I played on an intramural basketball team with Mike Moroski during one year at UC Davis).
The Eason play made a lasting impression on the younger Moroski, who saw it three times in a two-year period.
"I didn't even know what a one-person show would consist of," Moroski said. "I was blown away and it's been in the back of my mind ever since."
Moroski decided to write a one-person play last year while in a Los Angeles self-injury treatment group called The Action Workshop. Group participants were encouraged to set goals for themselves whether treatment-related or not.
"I wrote fictional stuff and people were lukewarm to it," Moroski said.
He was then pushed to write more personally, specifically about his cutting and self-injury.
"I was hesitant; I just wasn't sure there was anything interesting there."
When Moroski read his autobiographical material at a staged reading, the response was so positive he decided to develop it further and perform the piece at the Hollywood Fringe Theater Festival this past May, where it received a Best of Fringe award.
"I bum-rushed it and got the show ready. It's taken off from there," Moroski said.
The biggest challenge of the play was dealing with the question of why he started cutting himself. He found no easy answers.
"It's still kind of murky for me," Moroski said.
He began cutting when he was 18 and a senior in high school. College was looming and social pressures seemed overwhelming to him.
"I grew up with a really, really conservative Christian upbringing, a lot of guilt and shame-based ideology," Moroski said. "I felt myself pushing against the constraints that were being laid on me and I didn't know how to cope with that; cutting was one way I found."
He said the cutting had a temporary calming effect on him. But the effect didn't last long and so the cutting became a repetitive behavior. Moroski took the title of his play from a line in a poem by Vera Pavlova in her collection "If There Is Something To Desire."
"The title refers to those minutes that we all face in life where we feel everything crashing in on us and we crave escape or release or salvation or just peace. It's what we choose to do in those moments that is essentially important," Moroski wrote in an email.
Moroski has an acute awareness of the solo theater's self-indulgent pitfalls and seems determined to steer clear of them.
"I've seen a lot of one- person shows over the years, and to be frank I don't particularly care for them, and here I am doing one," Moroski said. "I didn't want to do my therapy in front of an audience."
Instead, he said, he bases the work in the concept of theater as community and a place where people come together to share stories.
"It does not make me special to be the one up on stage telling the story," he said. "My goal is that we're all on a level playing field and that my story validates your story."
THIS VICIOUS MINUTE
What: KOLT Run Creations presents writer and actor Ben Moroski performing his one-man play about his struggles with self-injury.
When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays through March 9. In observance of Self-Injury Awareness Day, two shows at 7 and 9 p.m. March 1.
Where: The Ooley Theatre, 2007 28th St., Sacramento
Tickets: $20 general; $15 for students/seniors/ KOLT Followers.