New York Times Theatre Review
Fringe NYC - Ace of Clubs
by Hy Bender
Copyright New Youk Times

Confessions of a Dope Dealer
One Man Act with Sheldon Norberg

In a one-man show, "Confessions of a Dope Dealer," Sheldon Norberg is surprisingly unapologetic about his life choices. He says a drug dealer is "a pioneer to whom we entrust our consciousness," and notes, " 'Dealer' is 'leader' misspelled." He also argues for the legalization of illicit drugs, maintaining they have value as both medicine and guides to spiritual clarity. (Indeed, with his shaved head, piercing eyes, all-black outfit and dynamic delivery, Mr. Norberg could be mistaken for a rogue preacher.) The blunder that he and his customers made, Mr. Norberg says, was in using drugs "as toys rather than tools."

Mr. Norberg, who seems to be in his mid-40's, didn't always have such attitudes; he grew up a straight arrow who lectured fellow students against addiction. His resolve began softening, however, when his parents tried to quit drinking coffee and became jittery. It slowly dawned on him that most people have addictions - if only to caffeine, cigarettes or alcohol.

What proved shattering, though, was Mr. Norberg's older brother Dave's taking him on a canoe trip one day to reveal that Dave had secretly been using marijuana and LSD for years.

Mr. Norberg soon adopted his brother's habits. And upon discovering a source of pot of much higher quality than what was available in his neighborhood, he says he followed two basic business principles: "Find a need and fill it" and "Sell a product that sells itself." He proceeded to do so for the next two decades.

Mr. Norberg's tales of childhood and his start as a small-time dealer are compelling. Once at college at UCLA, however, Mr. Norberg admits that he used drugs as a substitute for genuine human connections, and this portion of the show sometimes feels cold, detached and draggy, in part because it focuses so much on Mr. Norberg's drug experiences and so little on any people who might have touched him along the way.

Mr. Norberg's show ends with a Q&A session, in which he typically explains that he quit dealing around 12 years ago. He now makes a living practicing Chinese medicine and psychic healing in California, selling his book, "Confessions of a Dope Dealer," which covers the material of his show in more detail, and touring college campuses preaching "harm reduction" - effectively, "If you aren't going to 'just say no,' then at least know what you're doing."

Whether you applaud or loathe Mr. Norberg's beliefs, he offers perspectives seldom heard in the mainstream; and that's one reason to attend FringeNYC shows.