Autism at the Theatre: On The Spectrum

The Fountain Theatre bills “On the Spectrum” by Ken LaZebnik  as “not your (neuro)typical love story”…. and it certainly isn’t.   It’s more than that…. it’s about a modern-day Romeo and Juliet in love… who both just happen to have autism.    (Of course, during  Shakespeare’s era,  he would have a hard time writing “Romeo and Juliet” with lead autistic characters.   The young lovers would have been institutionalized for having autism or left on the side of the cobblestone streets to beg  for food or money).

“On the Spectrum” is ripe with intensity, complexity, depth and passion, sprinkled with ingenious light-hearted humor.   For instance, Mac (the lead character with Asperger’s Syndrome) prepares to ride the New York Subway to meet for the first time his new boss Iris, who is also  on the spectrum and has trouble communicating verbally (most of the time, she has to use an augmentative communication device with a recorded voice).

Dan Shaked & Virginia Newcomb -- Dan Shaked & Virginia Newcomb - photo by Ed Krieger
Dan Shaked & Virginia Newcomb
                                                                                  –photo by Ed Krieger

His mother Elizabeth is concerned that Iris might do something harmful to him or take advantage of him as Mac is about to walk out the door.   Mac responds sarcastically to his mother saying do you actually think she lures  young men to her apartment by telling them she has autism???   When he arrives at Iris’s apartment, it’s a total mess – he seriously asks her, “Do you have a fear of laundry?” and starts folding her clothes, which she quickly tosses haphazardly back on the couch.  Apparently, she likes to be in control, and her mess helps define her world.

Mac (Dan Shaked) lives with his stressed-out, unemployed, photo editor mother Elizabeth (Jeanie Hackett) in a cramped, West Village, New York apartment.   Although Elizabeth is not autistic like her son, she holds onto the world of her past by hanging a multitude of yak bells from the ceiling she had gotten in Nepal much to the dismay of Mac.  She tells her son that the yak bells remind her of the “best time in her life.”  Even though scientists tell us that people with Asperger’s aren’t supposed to get emotional, Mac feels the sting of his mother’s statement.   Aspies are, after all, human beings too.

“On the Spectrum” is ripe with intensity, complexity, depth and passion…

Even though he has plans to go to law school, Mac finds a job on Craigslist as a computer graphics designer to upgrade the website, “The Other World,” which was created by Iris (Virginia Newcomb).  Ironically, “The Other World” is Iris’s real world, and she rarely leaves her apartment.  At the beginning, Iris and Mac haven’t met in person, and only communicate online (their text was was brilliantly displayed in the background of the set).  When Mac goes to Iris’s apartment to get the money that is owed him and meets her in person for the first time, the young couple fall in love (having gotten to know each other through cyberspace).   While Mac has Asperger’s which causes him to see life in more literal terms, Iris is locked in a world of fantasy spawned by autism.  For instance she refers to her apartment in Queens as her “Crystal Palace” and wears a princess costume.  Mac is her only hope to get her feet on the ground, and he is more than willing to oblige.

According to LaZebnik, “The story is centered around love and finding a place to belong.  Based on my own experiences of family members on the autism spectrum, I wanted to explore the issues confronting young adults with autism.  I am so pleased to be able to bring more awareness to the Los Angeles community.” (The Help Group Newsletter, Spring 2013).

Winner of a 2012 Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award citation and a 2011 Edgerton Foundation New American Play award, “On the Spectrum” shines a powerful light on the obstacles and the successes of people with autism.

OTS5_crop
Jeanie Hackett
      & Dan Shaked
   photo: Ed Krieger

The acting is flawless and realistic; the story is heartfelt; the dialogue is perfect and the scene design is incomparable.   You cannot miss this charming theatrical experience.  Get your tickets now at the Fountain Theatre before it ends April 28, 2013.  You’ll regret it if you miss it.

The Fountain Theatre is located at 5060 Fountain Avenue in Hollywood, California.  Performances are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm and Sundays at 2:00 pm through April 28th.  For reservations and information, call 323-663-1525 or visit the theatre’s website at www.FountainTheatre.com. (Not Recommended for Young Children).


Debra Clark is anchor of the upcoming Autism World News