He is a 23-year-old college graduate preparing to go to law school. He is verbose, awkward and intensely focused; the sort of young man who will offer a 20-minute response to “Hello.” He has Asperger syndrome.
She is a recluse living in a fantasy world of her own creation, tied to her computer and communicating in a mellifluous computer-generated voice. She is autistic.
What could possibly go right?
“On the Spectrum,” by Ken LaZebnik, Is a love story between two people on different ends of the Autistic Disorder Spectrum and the play’s presentation is yet another triumph for the remarkable Fountain Theatre. “On the Spectrum” is a brilliant, flawless masterpiece.
Mac, an amazing Dan Shaked, lives with his mother (Jeanie Hackett) in an apartment in New York City. Stiff and clumsy, with a line of chatter that is a classic example of TMI (Too Much Information), he is nevertheless charming and infinitely lovable. Though he functions fairly well, his Asperger syndrome shows itself in his naiveté and his proclivity for taking all conversation literally. As he notes, he doesn’t “waste a lot of time on emotions.”
Iris, an equally awesome Virginia Newcomb, lives alone in an Otherworld that she has invented for herself in Queens. Her “Crystal Palace” in her imaginary forest is inhabited with Tolkien-like creatures who are her only friends. Her autism is severe; she is Our Lady of Perpetual Twitches.
In an effort to find a job, Mac develops a classified ad offering his services as a computer graphic designer to which Iris responds. She would like to illustrate her magic world, and she captures his imagination with her unrestrained fancies. They begin a conversation on their computers that flashes back and forth on screens behind them.
And here I must comment on the extraordinary set. Disappointing at first sight, it consists of what seems to be a hodgepodge of empty overlapping wooden frames and a few sticks of furniture. But thanks to the technical wizardry of video designer Jeffrey Elias Teeter and set designer John Iacovelli, the background becomes a world of its own. Her crystal palace in the forest alternates with his graphic moving train presented complete with puffing smoke and the evocative sound design of Peter Bayne. Full of fantasies drawn in black and white, the background suddenly bursts into vibrant color as the two correspondents begin to fall in love. It’s an enchanted moment.
The plot is straightforward and believable, and Jeanie Hackett, though less flamboyant than Mac and Iris, is a perfect illustration of a loving mother stretched for a lifetime by unbearable burdens.
The three principals shine under the pluperfect direction of Jacqueline Schultz, theater director, award-winning actress, and educator who has worked with learning disabled students for more than a dozen years.
This is a production that will take your breath away. If you only have the opportunity to get to one play this spring, On the Spectrum is the one to see!
“On the Spectrum” will continue at the Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave. (at Normandie), Los Angeles, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through April 28. Call (323) 663-1525 or visit www.FountainTheatre.com for tickets.
Cynthia Citron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.