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Photo: Stephen T. Holmes

Fringe Review: This Is Step One

By Brian Carroll on June 17, 2018

Photo: Stephen T. Holmes

This Is Step One
by Jess McAuley
New Twist Theatre Collective

58 min / Comedy, Drama, Storytelling / Mature


Content warning: alcoholism, substance abuse, sexual violence, and spousal abuse.


This is Step One is definitely not for everyone. I repeat. THIS SHOW IS NOT FOR EVERYONE!

In twelve-step programs, step one is “admitting that one cannot control one’s alcoholism, addiction or compulsion.” While Jess McAuley eventually gets to step one, most of the show is devoted to why she needed it in the first place.

Jean-Paul Sartre said that Hell is other people. McAuley has been to Hell, and come back to tell the tale. This is the story of her descent into Hell: alcoholism, substance abuse, date rape drugs, attempted gang rape, gaslighting and spousal abuse.

Thankfully it is also a tale of redemption.

Epiphanies can come in mundane circumstances. Saul had his epiphany on the road to Damascus. McAuley’s epiphany comes from 21st century technology. Her past life gets uploaded from her old iPhone 4 to her shiny new iPhone 6. She realizes that she can no longer ignore her past and has to deal with it.

When someone takes advantage of her innocence when she is six, McAuley suddenly learns that reputation is a fragile thing. Fortunately she finds a friend who defends her.

She is less fortunate in her teenage years. Subject to depression and anxiety, she hides her moods behind obsessive cleanliness. Lacking in self-esteem, she is easy prey for boys who “take an interest” in her. Worse, her defender from early childhood has died. She moves in with her high school boyfriend rather than following her dreams in a new city. McAuley hides her inadequacies in alcohol and drugs.

Despite being a substance abuser and being sexually abused, McAuley is still a highly-functioning individual. She enrols in theatre school. She wins an understudy role as Janet in a professional production of The Rocky Horror Show. She completes a degree in theatre. These bring her a new circle of friends who see the evidence of abuse and intervene. They teach her to see her abuse as gaslighting.

The last step is “helping others who suffer from the same alcoholism, addictions or compulsions.” McAuley’s last step is this show, in response to the #MeToo movement.

If you have a friend or relative who is similarly in Hell, you might consider bringing her to This is Step One. Epiphanies can happen in the most mundane ways. Maybe even at a Fringe show.


This Is Step One by Jess McAuley is playing at La Nouvelle Scène Studio A (333 King Edward Ave) until Saturday June 23, 2018. Tickets cost $12. Visit ottawafringe.com for the schedule and box office info. Read more reviews at apt613.ca/fringe.