When my cousin – an LA theatre veteran – invited me to see “a play about autism,” I’ll admit that I was a little hesitant. I’m not a big theatre-goer, though I love the arts and appreciate great live talent no matter the genre. It’s just that most of the time plays seem to drag on for me and the acting tends to be overly dramatic, hence the term “theatrical.”
But my cousin sold me when she said it was beautifully written, by a female playwright who based the story on her own life, and because autism was a subject that I had heard much about but knew very little, I decided to join her for the performance last Friday night. The play — “Falling” by Deanna Jent at the Rogue Machine Theatre — has not left my mind since.
To call it powerful and riveting is an understatement. My cousin was right — it was beautifully written and expertly acted under the direction of Elina de Santos. The suspension of disbelief that happens when you become engrossed in the story, which for me is so much easier when watching a film, was as smooth as I’ve ever experienced in a live theatre production. Audience members, myself included, had tears streaming and hearts wrenched throughout the 85-minute play.
Let me be clear about one thing — this is a play about autism, yes. But it’s one that I believe everyone should see whether you have a connection to it or not (and chances are, you do — as one of the actors said in the post-show Q&A, “if you don’t know someone who deals with autism, you know someone who knows someone…” as the neural disorder now affects 1 in 88 children! The data is shocking.) But the simple reason for attending? Compassion.
Compassion is the one thing that so many lack when it comes to dealing with something as complex as autism. If it’s not affecting you personally, you have no idea how profoundly challenging it is for moms, siblings, families, caretakers, and just about anyone who is touched by it. There are no easy answers. The emotions are mixed, deep, and difficult. The consequences can be great. And the choices are lackluster.
The play brings such complexity to life in a way that anyone can understand, whether you’ve had experience with an autistic child or not. It deals with family dynamics, marriage challenges, sibling relationships, guilt, love, and all the things that every family deals with when trying to hold it all together. It’s not easy to navigate domestic peace in the best of circumstances, but throw in an autistic child, and life becomes a day-to-day battle of survival. Most families who deal with an autistic child or children (80 percent in fact) sadly fall apart in such circumstances.
In “Falling,” the story explores the complex reality of a family whose everyday life centers on an autistic 18-year-old boy, who forces them to ask questions about how to love someone who is hard to love. Using the ignorance of a grandmother who comes to visit, bible in hand wanting a simple solution, as a means to contrast the minimal understanding that our culture as a whole has towards autism, the play unfolds in a way that makes such challenges relatable.
My hope in people seeing the play is that it will continue the discussion among all people, not just those who are affected directly. When so little reliable science is available to determine why numbers of autistic children are on the rise, and support programs are limited, understanding is minimal, and so many live in a private hell day after day trying to get through it without a disaster, the one thing that can help those who deal with it is compassion.
Kudos (or Bravos! if you prefer) are deserved for the director and cast of five, all of whom spent time before the production began with families of all kinds and dynamics who have autistic children, on all levels of the spectrum. Such experience clearly affected their stellar performances, as the behaviors, jargon, mannerisms, and emotion came across with depth and authenticity.
“Falling” was first produced at the Mustard Seed Theatre in St. Louis, Missouri in September 2011. Since then it has made its way off-Broadway, and now LA, where the production has received rave reviews.
Performed on Fridays and Saturdays, at 8 pm; Sundays at 3 pm. RUN to go see it. Closing weekend was scheduled to be November 10, though the run was extended to December 1 due to popular demand.
Tickets and show info: http://roguemachinetheatre.com/wordpress/show-info/falling
Lindsay Taub is an LA-based writer/editor who covers travel, lifestyle, culture, music/arts, food, wellness, and more. She calls Los Angeles home when she's there, but prefers to leave the city for the mountains and open spaces as often as possible. She loves cooking, gardening, live music, hiking with her three rescue dogs, and rustic luxury. Follow her on instagram/twitter @lindsaytaub and follow the Pacific Punch @ThePacificPunch or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Learn more at www.lindsaytaub.com and www.voyagevixens.com .***