Imagine a world where noise is an earthquake and feathers are a waterfall of joy. A world where down is up, and love is painful. ‘Falling’ at TrueNorth Cultural Arts presents a quick snippet in the world of a family living with an autistic child.
Beautifully crafted by Director Melissa Crum, ‘Falling’ (written by Deanna Jent) runs only one more weekend through April 24, 2016. This potent one-act play is a roller coaster of ultimate delight and tumultuous sorrow.
According to the State Support Team 2 (www.sstr2.org), “Autism is a complex neurological disorder affecting individuals in the areas of social interaction, communication and how they respond to their environment.” Although the play is fiction, it is based on a reality faced by many families every day.
‘Falling’ introduces us to the Martin family – mom Tami (Lisa L. Wiley), dad Bill (Jeff Steeber), daughter Lisa (Bridget Mahoney), “Grammy” Sue (Lynna Metrisin), and son Josh (Shaun Patrick O’Neill).
18-year-old Josh’s autism is all-consuming. On a daily basis, the family struggles with the intense highs and the frightening, sometimes violent lows that come with loving someone on the autistic spectrum. Everyday things become major events – a barking dog sets Josh off, Lisa’s voice calms him down; a jar of marbles gives Josh joy, his awkward social behaviors drive the family into chaos.
The play strives to show all sides of how humans react to Josh’s type of “abnormal” behaviors. Tami keeps her frustration bottled up and drinks to keep the lid on her emotions. Bill strives to keep Tami on-kilter while helping her maintain an environment of stability for everyone. Lisa struggles with her resentment towards her brother by avoiding him. Grammy Sue (who is just visiting) is taken aback by how the family just accepts the whirlwind of bedlam around them.
What is the “right” way to help and co-exist with someone who’s living in their own misunderstood realm? What does Josh see and hear that is invisible to everyone else? Is keeping Josh at home with his aggressive tendencies what’s best for him? Or is sending him away what’s best for the whole family? These questions of loyalty versus hurt are powerfully brought to light in ‘Falling.’
The acting is superb in this production. Steeber does a wonderful job honing in on Bill’s fatherhood, striving to protect the different members of the family. Metrisin provides the right amount of the “outside world” in Grammy Sue’s reactions, as the character really doesn’t know how to embrace the situation at hand. Mahoney brings the needed teen angst and frustration of Lisa to the stage, without coming across as a completely heartless sibling.
The dynamic work of O’Neill and Wiley are what make this a hard-hitting and poignant production. O’Neill’s rich layers to Josh capture the autistic manner without coming across like a caricature, or as offensive. The intensely physical role is completely embodied and believable. Wiley is outstanding in bringing the complex shell of Tami to the table. The character is strong and determined, yet so utterly fragile and on the brink of breaking that it rips the heart and challenges the soul.
Kudos to director Crum for creating not only a dramatic piece, but one with many light moments. There are little smidgens of delight and wonder throughout ‘Falling’ that show the strong bonds of family and of hope. The play educates and brings to light the humanity of autism, and of the everyday people who live in this complicated world. It celebrates the bonds that keep people together, and challenges the audience to learn more, to do more, to accept more.
‘Falling’ runs approximately 70 minutes with no intermission, and plays through Sunday, April 24, 2016 at TrueNorth Cultural Arts, located at 4530 Colorado Avenue (Rt. 611) in Sheffield Village. For tickets and information, call 440-949-5200, or visit www.tncarts.org.
For more information about autism, visit Autism Speaks at www.autismspeaks.org.