Recommended *** When I was a student at The Goodman, back in the 1960’s (it was part of the Art Institute at that time), I was asked to do a scene from “Of Mice and Men”, playing Lenny. I had very little knowledge of how someone “autistic” might have acted, so I did some research. Back then, the word “retard” was used a great deal and many families who had a child that was “different” were placed in special homes or institutions. While a great deal of progress has taken place over the decades, I still hear the expression “He’s a RETARD” when someone is different!
In Scott Woldman’s “Beautiful Autistic”, now having its World Premiere on the stage of Chicago Dramatists, we meet Jimmy (superbly brought to life by Nicholas Harazin) ,a young man who wants to live among “normal” people ,despite his autism. The story is set in the 1990’s, what one might call a transition period in the mindsets of the populace. “Rainman” and the wonderful portrayal by Dustin Hoffman brought more awareness to this health related issue and took away some of the fears that many had. Very often, without first hand knowledge or experience with people suffering from autism, people shy away or repel the efforts of these people who only want to fit in.
Woldheim’s story was inspired by his brother, who grew up knowing that he was different and if you pay close attention, you will find this to be a great learning experience. Harazin’s performance was definitely worth the price of the ticket as he brings his energy to making each movement of each scene as close to real as one might expect. His mother, Susan (deftly handled by Wendy Weber) through a series of flashbacks shows us the struggles that one might have in trying to keep their loved one safe, yet as close to normalcy as possible.
In the play, we find Jimmy at a bar where he meets another lonely individual, Eric (played to perfection by Andy Hager ) a loser who is normal, and yet, has his own problems. They bond, yet they are very different as they meet ladies and date ladies. The show works with many of the scenes, but could probably serve better as a 90 or 100 minute play with no intermission. One need not have the 12 minutes between acts as during that time, people went to their phones and took their minds away from the serious story we were observing. What we learn in this gentle story is that two people who are from “different worlds” can become “friends”, or at least be close to each other.
Smoothly directed by Rachel Edwards Harvith on a clever set (Katie-Bell Springmann) with sound by Sara Putts and lighting by Jeff Pines, I found the intimate space at Chicago Dramatists perfect for telling this story. Christopher Rickett’s violence and fight choreography is amazing as it appears very real, and remember, in this venue, we are no more than 40 feet from the stage. Wow! The ensemble players truly make the pieces fit, so hats off to the long-legged Clare Cooney, the adorable Arti Ishak and Nathaniel Andrew.
“Beautiful Autistic” will continue thru March 13th at Chicago Dramatists located at 1105 W. Chicago Avenue (it is somewhat difficult to find the front door to) right next to D’Augustino’s Italian (Ogden/Milwaukee/Chicago intersection) with performances as follows:
Fridays 7:30 p.m.
Saturdays 7:30 p.m.
Sundays 3 p.m.
Tickets range from $18- $33 and can be reserved by calling 312-633-0630 or online at www.chicagodramatists.org
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “Beautiful Autistic”