San Francisco Playhouse’s “Cashed Out” spins a bold, blistering tale of resilience — one intent on dissecting the harmful rippling effects of addiction in the home. Set on the Gila River Indian Community Reservation in Arizona, the play revolves around three generations of Camu women struggling with various addictions, and the shadow that this trauma casts on their family.
The casino problem is one which the play addresses head-on, acknowledging both the financial benefits and enduring complications that casinos bring to the Camu community. Commissioned by the San Francisco Playhouse, a self-described “empathy gym,” “Cashed Out” impressively tackles themes of generational trauma, tradition, and communal joy. As playwright Claude Jackson Jr., writes, “…this play isn’t marginalized. It’s an experience for everyone.”
In the opening scene, Rocky (Rainbow Dickerson) stomps onstage wearing a pair of beloved yet beaten-up basketball shoes, much to the chagrin of her aunt, Nan (Sheila Tousey). This distinctive push and pull — a dynamic recognizable to many families — is a theme threaded throughout the strained Camu relationships of “Cashed Out.” Rocky, in particular, steers the narrative, battling a growing penchant for gambling while reckoning with a strained maternal relationship.
However, the play is perhaps best understood not through Rocky herself, but through the entire Camu community, who attempt to catch the female protagonist when she falls. Often perched atop a plastic chair in the corner, Sheila Tousey quietly shines as Nan, the warm matriarch of the family. As a deft source of wit and wisdom, Nan also provides a grounding presence — a welcome center of gravity for the Camu women in the play, as well as for the audience. As Rocky’s charming daughter Maya, Louisa Kizer delivers a vibrant performance as the newest Camu generation. Kizer’s portrayal is full of a lovable spunk tempered by desperation for her mother’s fleeting attention. Rocky’s opposite, Levi Tashquinth (Chingwe Padraig Sullivan), sparked riveting friction whenever onstage, his rigid morals and tender understanding clashing with his childhood friend’s addiction. While Rocky’s bombastic character often veers into the territory of over-exaggeration, both Nan and Levi balance Dickerson’s occasionally flat performance with multi-layered depictions of conflicted friends and family affected by her addiction.
The Camu family’s tale is set in a warm blue and yellow house, with flowers growing alongside the door frame and blankets lovingly strewn across the furniture. These small details instantly transform the stage into a beloved home environment. As Rocky spins out of control, so does the play itself; the stage often rotates to show a flipped scene of a dark casino room, lit only by the ominous lights of a lone slot machine. Director Tara Moses frequently utilizes the rotating design to illustrate sporadic time jumps, emphasizing an unnerving understanding of Rocky’s thriving instability.
Behind the spinning stage looms a curved, intertwined backdrop, instantly recognizable as the walls of a woven basket and indicative of Rocky’s mother’s occupation as a basket weaver. This art of weaving ties the story together. After Rocky makes a donation to the casino of her mother’s woven baskets, a striking image comes into focus as the stage spins to reveal the hunched-over protagonist, gambling the night away in front of a display of her mother’s framed pieces. The stage design underscores Rocky’s complex struggles, displaying a family surrounded by tradition yet spinning slowly into chaos.
While “Cashed Out” offers an in-depth peek into generational addiction, its narrative is sometimes convoluted, distracting time jumps and thin narrative threads loosely holding together the overarching story of the Camu women. Although Rocky’s brazen, charming character is certainly riveting, she ultimately lacks a textured touch, instead landing as a one-dimensional portrait of addiction, primarily defined by her erratic movements and undeveloped fall to gambling.
“Cashed Out” shines brightest through Rocky’s family, finding its voice in the small moments of painful conflict that build to Rocky’s collision with her family’s unconditional love. Traversing the fine line between love and the crippling lows of addiction, “Cashed Out” weaves an at once heartbreaking and heartwarming memorable tale reflecting the power of community.