Everything about this production seems authentic
Autism is getting a lot of ink lately (presumably because its rates of occurrence are increasing), but for those whom it does not touch personally, it’s difficult to understand the magnitude of problems it can cause within a family.
Playwright Deanna Jent has an autistic child, and in her heartbreaking “Falling,” she lays the problems out for the audience to experience. Samantha Ginn, who works with autistic children every day, directs the piece.
Autism manifests in a whole spectrum of ways, but Josh is what would be called low-functioning autistic. Repetitive actions and movements are typical.
He needs (but doesn’t always want to follow) structure and a schedule. A huge family calendar on the wall lets him know what is on the schedule each day. He is easily agitated, and now that he’s 18 and has a man’s body (but a toddler’s emotional development), he can pose a serious danger to other family members when in that state.
His teenaged younger sister Lisa is not autistic but sees her life continually limited by her brother’s problem. Finally one day, she blurts “I hate him” to mother Tami, and asks her to send him away.
“I know you hate him,” says Tami. “But moms don’t get that choice. We just love our kids no matter what.”
As for “sending him away,” that’s a sore point for the whole family. Tami and husband Bill realize that Josh’s strength and size will eventually necessitate moving him to a facility where he will be less likely to harm others, but waiting lists are long and the likelihood of making him feel unloved have made it impossible thus far.
When Bill’s mother Grammy Sue (a religious nut who has not seen Josh for several years) comes to visit, she is scandalized by behavior the immediate family takes for granted. Her solution is to pray for healing.
But there are no simple solutions. Jent’s goal is to give the audience an unvarnished glimpse into a world most will never be exposed to. There are no villains here; only a victim and several heroes.
Ginn has an outstanding cast, and her direction has the ring of truth about it, as well. In fact, everything about this production seems authentic.
D. Candis Paule plays Tami with authority and understanding. The depth of her sadness is matched only by the fierceness of her devotion.
Steve Schmitz’s Bill shows admirable patience in his attempt to make his son’s life workable without ruining both his marriage and his own life, but the struggle is evident.
Robert Malave is a marvel as the normally gentle Josh, whose sudden volcanic eruptions are difficult to predict and frightening to watch.
Alanna Serrano is utterly believable as Josh’s sister Lisa, whose desire for a normal teenager’s life seems less and less likely.
It’s evident that Kathi Copeland’s Grammy Sue means well, but she shows all the cluelessness of the uncomprehending.
“Falling” continues InnerMission’s string of plays about important issues. Artistic director Carla Nell and this fine cast have come through with an excellent production yet again.
“Falling” plays through November 25, 2017 at Diversionary Theatre’s Black Box, 4545 Park Blvd., University Heights.
Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 pm.;
Tickets: (619) 324-8970 or innermissionproductions.org