Review: Beautiful Autistic (Chicago Dramatists)

| March 12, 2016

Nicholas Harazin and Wendi Weber in Beautiful Autistic          
      
   

Beautiful Autistic

Written by Scott Woldman
Chicago Dramatists, 1105 W. Chicago (map)
thru March 13  |  tix: $18-$33  |  more info
       
Check for half-price tickets   


    
  

Lead performance lets down promising premise

  

Wendi Weber and Nicholas Harazin in Beautiful Autistic

    
Chicago Dramatists presents
    
Beautiful Autistic

Review by Keith Glab

Awareness of Autism Spectrum Disorder is far more prevalent now than it was in the early 90s, when Beautiful Autistic takes place. Nevertheless, it still isn’t easy to identify a person on the spectrum because the symptoms are so varied, so Scott Woldman‘s world premiere play serves an important role in further increasing awareness.

Nathaniel Andrew, Nicholas Harazin and Wendi Weber in Beautiful AutisticWe can think of ASD as a learning disability in regards to social interactions. Jimmy (Nicholas Harazin) hangs on the lower-functioning end of this spectrum, but nevertheless spends a great deal of his time in a bar. Because he is good-looking, he winds up attracting a lot of interaction, particularly with women. This escalates when Eric (Andy Hager), befriends him and decides to make him his wingman for picking up ladies.

The piece jumps around in time, exploring seminal events from Jimmy’s childhood as well as the weeks after he meets Eric. The childhood moments tend towards drama whereas the adult portions lean towards the comedic side, particularly with Eric having difficulties navigating social mores himself. Title projections introduce most scenes to help the audience follow the jumps in time, but there’s still something about the scenic sequencing that doesn’t quite work in the order they’re presented.

Harazin’s performance as the lead character doesn’t work well either. Obviously with varying symptoms on the autism spectrum, there are lots of different valid directions to take the character. Harazin’s choices lack subtlety. All of Jimmy’s mannerisms – from a big awkward laugh at his own jokes to a repetitive flailing left arm – are so theatrical that the many other characters he meets over the course of the play should have some idea that he has a behavioral disability when the idea is that people who approach him shouldn’t immediately understand how he is different. The possibilities for a subtler expression of autism include monotone voice, lack of eye contact, awkward posture, or a stoic countenance, just to name a few. Harazin avails himself of none of these tools, which somewhat sabotages the narrative and thematic structure of the play.

Clare Cooney, Andy Hager, Arti Ishak and Nicholas HarazinNicholas Harazin and Wendi Weber in Beautiful Autistic Nathaniel Andrew and Nicholas Harazin Andy Hager and Nicholas Harazin in Beautiful Autistic

Hager and Wendi Weber excel as Jimmy’s best friend and mother, however, reacting authentically to Harazin’s larger-than-life Jimmy. Hager exudes desperation and creates a layered sympathetic character that has been told he’s ugly all his life. Weber counterbalances her character’s frustration with Jimmy’s constant summons with an intense love of her child. Clare Cooney, Nathaniel Andrew, and Arti Ishak provide yeoman’s work in numerous roles that mostly serve the plot.

Woldman’s script brims with humor that the cast is able to realize well. They are able to navigate from that to serious moments successfully, too. The play avoids clichés and doesn’t offer up any easy answers to the problems faced by those with autism, or the difficulties faced by their friends and family.

As someone who identifies as being on the higher-functioning end of the autism spectrum, I found myself hyper-aware of my own quirks and nonconformities during intermission and after the show. This speaks to the power and authenticity of Woldman’s script and the cast’s ability to play off each other. I can’t help but feel like a re-sequencing of the scenes and a more nuanced performance from the lead actor would turn an interesting production into a must-see.

  
Rating: ★★½
  
   

Beautiful Autistic continues through March 13th at Chicago Dramatists, 1105 W. Chicago (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sundays 3pm.  Tickets are $18-$33, and are available by phone (312-633-0630) or online through BrownPaperTickets.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at ChicagoDramatists.org(Running time: 2 hours, includes an intermission)

Clare Cooney, Arti Ishak, Nathaniel Andrew sand Nicholas Harazin

Photos by Liam Fitzgerald


  

artists

cast

Nicholas Harazin (Jimmy), Andy Hager (Eric), Wendi Weber (Susan), Clare Cooney (ensemble), Nathaniel Andrew (ensemble),  Arti Ishak (ensemble)

behind the scenes

Rachel Edwards Harvith (director), Katie-Bell Springmann (set design), Jeff Pines (lighting design), Sarah Putts (sound design), Kate Setzer Kamphausen  (costume design), Chris Rickett (violence design), Jennifer J. Thusing (stage manager), Liam Fitzgerald (photos)

Andy Hager and Nicholas Harazin in Beautiful Autistic

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Category: 2016 Reviews, Chicago Dramatists, Keith Glab, New Work, World Premier

Comments (1)

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  1. John Capaul says:

    I understand the play you wanted to see. However, this 4 star production is better than Timeline’s “Sunset Baby” (which will win all the awards) violent and desperate desire to be heard and acknowledged; better than Nortlight’s production of Terrence McNally’s “Mothers & Sons” to illustrate the hard-wired connection between mother and son. Jimmy lives in a jagged, chaotic and often incomprehensible world. None of this is supposed to be nuanced. Time jumps are common – go for the ride or get off the rollercoaster. The point is “You can call me anytime” … even if it kills me.