Autism is a serious topic that’s been depicted in depth theatrically only in recent years. Aside from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, there aren’t a lot of notable examples of shows that revolve around this neurodevelopmental disorder.
Often intense to experience, InnerMission Productions’ staging of the 75-minute one act play, Falling, gives audiences a peak into the life of a young adult who is severely autistic. It’s not a show that’s always easy to relate to, but it’s one that delves deep into a subject that many people still don’t fully understand.
During a seemingly normal week, an 18-year-old boy, Josh (Robert Malave), is watched over closely by his loving mom, Tami (D. Candis Paule), and his dad, Bill (Steve Schmitz). Even when Josh violently acts out against others, his parents know how to handle him and make their son live as happy of an existence as could be possible.
Stressful situations increase when Bill’s religious mom, Grammy Sue (Kathi Copeland), stops by to visit. Sue believes that prayer will cause Josh to turn into a normal person.
Diversionary Black Box once again generates an intimate atmosphere with performers only steps away from theatregoers. This allows the action to connect in a deeply personal way.
What also draws San Diegans into Josh’s world is Alondra Velez’s set. Almost all the items at the house, such as VHS tapes, feathers and toys, are clearly for Josh.
Anyone who interacts with people who are severely autistic will find Malave’s performance to be an accurate portrayal of a uniquely disturbed individual. Josh’s anxiety and fear are sometimes difficult to witness, yet his youthful wonder and joy allows him to be a likable soul.
Schmitz, Copeland and Alanna Serrano, as Josh’s sister Lisa, play family members who don’t always know how to handle his behavior. They adjust, and react, to dramatic situations in ways that add layers to their characters.
Always wanting what’s best for her son, Tami is the kind of loving mother that every child should have. Paule’s powerful acting turns the mother into the type of realistic heroine who deserves respect from others.
Staff members who work for InnerMission made a good call in allowing a director who truly gets the material to lead the regional premiere. Samantha Ginn was a special needs preschool teacher. She currently helps many children with disabilities by teaching improv and acting, particularly through an improv program she started, “Monday Night Live!”
Ginn doesn’t flinch from serious situations, but she also handles moments of comedic relief in Deanna Jent’s script smoothly, as when Tami starts to lip-sync to AC/DC’s hit song, “You Shook Me All Night Long.” Playfully funny, this sequence is when Alex Guzman’s audio and James Michael M. McCullock’s lighting stands out the most.
Almost all the conflicts that happen in Falling feel real, which isn’t surprising given that Jent is the mother of an autistic son. Only one situation comes across as melodramatic. Towards the final third of the tale, there is a scene when several heated moments occur in a row between Tami and family members. As one problem after another occurs, Jent tries a little too hard to come up with uncomfortable moments.
The playwright’s dialogue refuses to sugarcoat the hardships Josh and others go through everyday. As there isn’t an unsympathetic person in the entire play, San Diegans want them all to persevere through the difficult challenges that they face.
Although no easy answers exist, Ginn’s often-poignant direction, and her cast, have crafted a bittersweet evening that’s emotionally satisfying. Jent has written a moving script about people that should be represented a lot more onstage.