Autism, family obligation, and innovative design collide on stage in Olivia Haller’s This Is All Just Temporary, Convergence Theatre’s contribution to the 2018 Women’s Voices Theater Festival. Using projections, movement, and some classic storytelling techniques, this production puts a new spin on the theme that the people we love the most can also make us feel the most “stuck.”
Our way into this story is 23-year-old Lauren (Fabiolla da Silva), a recent college grad who has returned home to Alexandria, VA, to work in a gelato shop while she hunts for jobs in the solar energy sector. But what she returns home to is hardly a safe space—her 6’ 2”, 220-pound, severely autistic younger brother, Noah, has becoming increasingly violent and her parents, Lou (Taunya Ferguson) and Cal (David Walsh), and the family’s nanny, Sherry (Annette Mooney Wasno), have become more and more exasperated and on edge. In fact, the first scene drops us into the family’s living room, where a behavioral therapist, Amy (Raven Lorraine Wilke), is teaching them self-defense moves for the next time Noah tries to grab their hair and bite them.
The heightened tensions are taking a toll on everyone in the house. Cal wants to investigate group homes, while Lou is adamant about keeping Noah home. Sherry, in the meantime, is burned out from taking on a role for which she wasn’t hired and hasn’t been properly trained. Into this milieu walks Lauren, who is torn between her family obligations and the wishes of her mother for her to stay home (which is a nice rebuttal of the prevailing, tired millennials-as-lazy-parasites narrative), and her desire to follow her dreams and live her own life on the opposite coast.
Further complicating the matter is Lauren’s budding romance with Gabriel (Axandre Oge), who she meets while working at the gelato shop. Gabriel, who has stayed on his family’s farm to help raise his six younger siblings—including his own brother with autism after his father dies, represents the paragon of familial devotion. While their meet-cute is distractingly convenient, their fumbling courtship is a source of laughter and tenderness in what could otherwise be a completely somber affair.
While Noah is at the center of the action, he’s never seen on stage. Convergence’s website notes that the experiential design (more on that in a moment) is meant to show the audience Noah’s perspective. I’m not sure I would have picked up on that on my own. I’m still left thinking about this aspect of the story; Noah’s absence allows us to focus on the effect his condition and escalating aggression have on his family and avoids the thorny situation of potentially having a non-autistic actor portray an autistic person, but it also robs the character of his humanity, making him, at times, feel more like an abstract concept than a struggling young man.
This Is All Just Temporary
closes February 10, 2018
Details and tickets
Director Elena Velasco guides her cast adeptly through the small space, with Wilkes and Oge doing double duty as “movers” who help to drive both the set pieces and the action. Alex Miletich IV’s set design is purposely simple, creating both a metaphorical and literal canvas upon which the action and Philip da Costa’s excellent projection design can unfold. The centerpiece is a giant picture frame upon which shadow scenes and animated versions of artwork created through a partnership with Art Enables—an art gallery and vocational arts program for artists with disabilities—are projected. These, along with some simple movements centered on connection and breathing, help to create an affecting non-verbal experience for the audience.
Some small shortcomings—like a perhaps-too-tidy ending and some lagging scene changes—aside, This Is All Just Temporary deftly highlights the strength of the feelings of both love and guilt a family can elicit in us, and how we sometimes must come together to make impossible choices. While the particulars may vary, anyone who’s ever been a member of a family will likely walk away from the Anacostia Arts Center with a lot to think about.
This Is All Just Temporary by Olivia Haller. Featuring: Fabiolla da Silva, Lauren Taunya Ferguson, Annette Mooney Wasno, David Walsh, Axandre Oge, and Raven Lorraine Wilkes. Director/sound designer: Elena Velasco. Stage manager: Laura Schlachtmeyer. ASM/props designer: Carrie Kirby. Assistant direction/set designer: Alex Miletich IV. Lighting/projections designer: Philip da Costa. Costume designer: Madeline Belknap. Dramaturg: Margot H. G. Manburg. Produced by Convergence Theatre. Reviewed by John Bavoso.
Part of the Women’s Voices Theater Festival