The dimming of the lights brought a hush over the audience. As the spotlights shone, the stage came alive with the story of the Martins, based after the reality of Playwright Deanna Jent’s family.
Falling, presented by the Messiah College Department of Theater and Dance, gives a glimpse of one day in the life of a family learning how to love each other despite all obstacles. On this particular day Grammy Sue (performed by Marcie Webber) comes to visit bringing unbalance to the everyday routine.
For the Martins, the biggest struggle comes with Josh (performed by Kyle Gorin), son of Tami (performed by Kieran Mayer) and Bill (performed by Clark Goodwin), who has severe autism. The efforts to tend to him and his need leaves sister Lisa (performed by Cheyenne Shupp) feeling forgotten.
To see the dynamic between the actors and how naturally they mold into their characters is impressive. Tami Martin, for instance, switches from bringing herself to the same level as Josh, such as joining him in singing ‘the wheels on the bus go round and round’, to being an adult filled with worries and stress for her family’s well being.
The complexity of portraying someone with autism is something Gorin prepares for through research. He mostly watches YouTube videos to help develop his performance as Josh. Gorin’s research plus Josh’s placement on the spectrum adds to a new extreme for him as an actor. Gorin shares “you just try to get in the mindset”.
The life of this family is stirring as they move day-to-day “walking on eggshells” according to Jent.
The audience is captivated by the overall message of the production and the talented performances by the cast and all involved. “There’s a lot of work behind the scenes that people who come to see the show don’t get to see,” says Fransesca Rosario-Melo, Stage Manager. “Each audience responds differently,” Rosario-Melo continues, “it’s interesting to see which parts they think are funny and which parts they’re touched by.”
The impact of Falling extends beyond the theater. Junior Eli Harkins shares his immediate response to the tagline ‘Loving someone who is hard to love’:
“I remember walking through the High Center and seeing this quote on a poster and almost crying because I am so familiar with the life with autism. Autism is something that cannot be controlled or fixed and, yes, people with autism may behave differently or be emotionally non-typical, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t feel or that they are okay with being challenging or hard for our families to live with. So I am very glad to see this play discussing autism because it is something families have to deal with every day, but it is also hard to see the show being about how hard it is to live with someone with autism without really going into how painful it is to be autistic.”
This is the challenge Falling voices, the struggles and reality of all those touched by autism. It does not sugar coat anything and brings it under new light.
“I hope that the audience feels something that pierces them- whether that’s gratefulness, sadness, loss, or love… and lastly, I hope they learn more about autism and become more compassionate towards others. That’s been my biggest takeaway from this show: we are all hard to love at one point or another,” shares actress Kieran Mayer.
This phenomenal and deeply touching performance is still showing this afternoon, October 11th at 3pm in Poorman BlackboxTheater in the Climenhaga Building. Tickets range from $5 to $10 and are available at the ticket office or online at www.messiah.edu/tickets.