It is astonishing that Christina Rodriguez, (whose son is autistic) can write so clearly and poignantly on the subject of autism. In the Autism Monologues, she has taken the stories of psychologists and families and the children and adults who suffer from autism and woven them into a remarkable piece of theatre. The five actors move smoothly from persona to persona and perform the impossible act of making autism and its effect on families both interesting and comprehensible.
With a minimalist set and boxes which serve as both seats and desks (dragged around the stage). and symbolising the issue which weighs on all the characters, the five actors move one to understanding and even tears. At a particularly outstanding moment in the play an audience member yelled out, “Love them, just love them!” For an instant I thought they were part of the play, because the words were perfect, and timing couldn’t have been better.
Jacqueline van de Geer is stunning in all her roles, but she is incredible as a mother who is trying to figure out how to love her third, and autistic son, when she cannot understand what he is thinking. She is convinced that he neither hears nor sees her. Christina Rodriguez who performed Dreaming in Autism as a one person show, has a heart wrenching scene where she has been sent running from social services to the ministry of education one time too many, and she has the most convincing melt down. Jean Bernard is terrific as the father who takes his autistic son to see the Muppets, and I vote that he should leave his day job and stick to acting. He is very real as the little boy who is confused about being abandoned by his friends and gives a sound rendition of the brother who can only communicate in sign language.
Julie Barbeau is absolutely right on as a psychologist whose job it is to tell parents that their children have autism. She is also magnificent as the mother whose child has committed suicide. The big reveal was Stephen Booth, who has been active in the English theatre community for years. His performance was wonderful and completely convincing, and his transitions were flawless.
I have a bone to pick with the direction. There was a screen on stage which did not seem to work, and occasionally the actors had physical twitches that needed work. The play was all on one level; in a black box theatre that can be a bit dull. However, if you are thinking of going to the fringe this is a great play to see.
The Autism Monologues plays at Studio Jean-Valcourt du Conservatoire (4750 Henri-Julien and continues through June 17 as part of the St. Ambroise Montreal FRINGE Festival. Find out all shows and info at montrealfringe.ca. Montreal Rampage coverage of the Fringe Festival includes reviews of Greasy, Dance Side of the Moon, Buyer and Cellar, Lucky, Don’t Read the Comments,Crime After Crime (After Crime), Is that How Clowns Have Sex?, SCUM FM, Jellyfish are Immortal, Naked Ugly Dancing, and Rootless Tree.