By Austin Kaiser
This show is about Anne and her twin boys. One has autism and the other doesn’t. Davey, Anne’s autistic son, wouldn’t make eye contact with her. He became engrossed by ceiling fans and when he stared at them, she joked that he was in Paris. “Come back from Paris,” she pleaded. She told us about a birthday party where, while other children socialized, Davey occupied himself by opening and closing a closet door. Parents stared at him. When Anne met their gaze, they looked away. She went to the bathroom to cry, because she couldn’t make eye contact with anyone. She saw herself in the mirror and said, “Suck it up.”
Anne lived this life and, because she also lived the life of an actress, she put her experience into a performance. Now and then she jumped out of autobiography and into the lives of people she met along the way. She impersonated a chain-smoking mother from Staten Island who learned to stop trying to ‘cure’ her son. She embodied an autistic girl named Mallory who found value in her neurodiversity. Simply through a subtle gesture like adjusting her shirt, Anne morphed. She stood on a chair and performed a musical number. She stood pencil-straight, six inches from the front row, and recalled pleading with her son years earlier. She portrayed a galaxy of breathtaking characters. It would have been enough to present an unfamiliar slice of life. It would have been enough for the writing to be good, and for the story to have tension and climax. But it’s a rubric-breaking accomplishment for Anne to fade in and out of half a dozen characters. That is honed genius. That is a what theatre call its raison d’etre.
See this show to remember how to be optimistic. Anne spoke about looking for ‘strawberries’ – what she called her moments of joy. A strawberry might be a fleeting moment of affection from her son or a sequence of green lights on the drive to work.
See this show to learn about a medical mystery. The mother from Staten Island offered an analogy by saying, “If my child had leukemia, I wouldn’t expect to go home and, for the next six years, read a dozen textbooks about leukemia and highlight them and bring them to the doctor and say, ‘Here are the things you need to try.’” But that’s the case with autism. The medical community is still making up its mind. Doctors are debating. Parents have to intellectually participate.
See this show for the pleasure of ferrying ideas across the synapses of your mind. For the stimulation of well-worn paths of dopamine and laughter, and the delicately explored subjects of critical thinking and morality. Anne curses playfully. She bravely admits her shortcomings. Much like white people need to learn the stories of minorities and immigrants, men need to learn about the experience of women, and the rich need to learn about the experience of the poor, “A Train” joins an essential catalogue of civil-rights-and-civil-intellect works of art.
See this show because it will make you feel. There was a scene in which Anne listed typical events in a teenager’s life: passing a driving test, dancing at prom, playing hooky and staying out late. At list, she added the word, “chainsaw.” She said she would give up her arms, if only her son could enjoy those life experiences. “Chainsaw. Chainsaw. Chainsaw. Tell me it can be that easy,” she said. See this play because a mother wanting what is best for her son is an infinite love we need to know exists. Just be sure to maintain eye contact.
Performed by Anne Torsiglieri
Composer: Brad Carroll
Director: Risa Brainin
Photos: courtesy of the production
Sept. 13 at 7:30pm, Sept. 14 at 9pm, Oct. 8 at 9pm
United Solo 2018
410 West 42nd Street
New York City
Oct. 20-21, 2018 at 7:30pm
Center Stage Theater
751 Paseo Nuevo
Santa Barbara, CA
AUSTIN KAISER is a writer with an expertise in art and the creative process. His writing is about improving your imagination and exercising your empathy muscle. Kaiser is currently writing a book called, “100 Questions Every Artist Should Have The Answers To.” His other book, “How To Go Viral & Put Wings On Ideas: A Book For Content Creators & Young Artists,” explains how ideas travel and which ideas travel best. More at: www.medium.com/@KaiserMane.