Mac has Asperger’s. Iris is autistic. Jacqueline Schultz directs Jeanie Hackett,Virginia Newcomb and Dan Shaked in the West Coast premiere of a funny, touching and unconventional romance. On the Spectrum by Ken LaZebnik opens at The Fountain Theatre on March 16.
Quirky and unexpected, On the Spectrum is a love story with a difference. In LaZebnik’s award-winning play, an online e-chat blossoms into a heartfelt courtship between two exceptional young people with autism.
Schultz is an award-winning actress and a theater director at The Help Group’s Summit View School for students with learning differences. The Help Group is the largest and most innovative nonprofit of its kind in the U.S. serving children with autism, learning differences and other special needs. She was immediately drawn to the project.
“As with all great love stories, there are obstacles,” Schultz says. “Ken’s play is original, charming and moving.”
Many people on the autism spectrum take pride in their distinctive abilities and “atypical” ways of viewing the world. In On the Spectrum, Mac (Shaked), whose mother (Hackett) provided years of mainstreaming and therapy, passes as “typical.” He connects online with Iris (Newcomb), an activist who proudly champions her autism as a difference, not a disorder.
Winner of a 2012 Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award citation and a 2011 Edgerton Foundation New American Play award, On the Spectrum was commissioned by Mixed Blood Theatre in Minneapolis, where artistic director Jack Reuler directed the premiere as part of the Center of the Margins Festival. Ken LaZebnik has written two other plays about autism: Vestibular Sense, which also premiered at Mixed Blood, was honored with an award from the American Theatre Critic’s Association at the Humana Festival in Louisville; and Theory of Mind, commissioned for young audiences by Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, has also been produced in Minnesota, Hawaii and Michigan, and was published by Dramatic Publishing.
Ken LaZebnik’s other plays include a new book for the musical Babes in Arms, Garland Wright’s last production at the Guthrie Theater; the comedy, Sink Eating, which premiered at the Matrix Theatre in Los Angeles; and an adaptation of The Odyssey which the off-off-Broadway ensemble DearKnows, where he was a founding member, toured for Lincoln Center Institute. Mixed Blood Theatre premiered his baseball play League of Nations, and commissioned and produced both Harlem Renaissance Revue and the one-man play Calvinisms. For film, LaZebnik wrote the screenplay for Thomas Kinkade’s Christmas Cottage, which starred Peter O’Toole and Marcia Gay Harden, and, together with Garrison Keillor, co-wrote director Robert Altman’s last film, A Prairie Home Companion. LaZebnik has a long history of writing for Garrison Keillor’s “Prairie Home Companion” radio show. For television, he has written series as varied as Providence, Star Trek: Enterprise, The Paula Poundstone Show and Jack’s Place, and he was a writer/producer on Touched by an Angel for eight years.
Jacqueline Schultz has worked as a theater director/educator with learning disabled students for over 12 years. As a professional actress, Schultz has been seen at the Fountain in the U.S. premiere of Athol Fugard’s The Blue Iris; the Ovation-winning After the Fall; The Road to Mecca; The Night of the Iguana; The Darker Face of the Earth; Fighting Over Beverley (L.A. Weekly Award); Duet for One (Ovation Award nomination, Best Actress); Ashes (Drama-Logue Award); The Golden Gate (Drama-Logue Award); and Orpheus Descending. She reprised her role from the Fountain’s Los Angeles premiere of Lee Blessing’s Going to St. Ives (Best Actress nomination, NAACP Theater Award) for the International Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland. Other theater credits include Park Your Car in Harvard Yard, To Kill a Mockingbird and Awake and Sing! at International City Theatre; the West Coast premiere of String of Pearls at both the Road Theatre Company and the Santa Barbara Theatre; the world premiere of Open Window at the Pasadena Playhouse; and Sorrows and Rejoicings at the Mark Taper Forum.
Jeanie Hackett (Elisabeth) has been seen on Broadway in A Streetcar Named Desire (Circle in the Square) and Ah, Wilderness (Roundabout); Off-Broadway in new plays at Soho Rep, the Promenade and the Clurman Theater; on L.A. stages in Arms and The Man, How the Other Half Loves, Present Laughter (Pasadena Playhouse); Old Times (South Coast Rep); The Vagina Monologues (Cannon); The Greeks (Odyssey); Phaedra(Getty Villa); The Seagull (Matrix); Kate Crackernuts (24th Street); Light, Pera Palas (Theatre @ Boston Court);Tonight at 8:30, The Autumn Garden (Antaeus); and in a variety of roles with L.A. Theatre Works. Regional: Tennessee Williams’ Vieux Carre, leading roles in Richard III, Taming of the Shrew, A Winter’s Tale, Hamlet, Cyrano de Bergerac, Uncle Vanya and over a dozen plays at the Williamstown Theater Festival. Film: The Words (with Bradley Cooper and Dennis Quaid), Take Me Home Tonight (Topher Grace), King of California(Michael Douglas) and Post Grad (Michael O’Keefe and Carol Burnett.) TV: Lie to Me, Lincoln Heights, Medium, Criminal Minds, The “L” Word, Charmed, Judging Amy (recurring) and The West Wing, playing Queen Margaret from Shakespeare’s Henry VI. As artistic director of Antaeus from 2003-2011, Jeanie led the company to its multiple award-winning first full season, including the world premiere of Jeffrey Hatcher’s Cousin Bette, for which she won the Backstage/Garland Award for direction. She is also a former artistic director of The Classical Theater Lab.
Virginia Newcomb (Iris) was last seen at the Fountain Theatre in the West Coast premiere of the rarely-seen Tennessee Williams play, A House Not Meant to Stand. She recently co-starred on stage in The Grapes of Wrath at Knightsbridge Theatre, Sweet Bird of Youth at the Marilyn Monroe Theatre and This Property is Condemned at the Globe Playhouse. She has appeared on TV’s The Office and CSI, and can be seen in the new comedy webseries Bandmates. Virginia stars in the lead role in The Boogeyman, a feature film based on Stephen King’s short story.
Dan Shaked (Mac) is a graduate of NYU Tisch School of the Arts drama program and studied at The Lee Strasberg Film/Theater Institute and London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. New York theater credits include Saviana Stanescu’s Waxing West at La MaMa (subsequent Europe tour), the First Irish Theater Festival (PS122), Snow Angel (directed by Lola Cohen) and Stone Cold Dead Serious (Clurman Theater). In Boston, he played the lead in Naomi Wallace’s The Fever Chart for UnderGround Railway Theater. Dan can be seen in the upcoming films The Broken, How To Follow Strangers and Jobs (opposite Ashton Kutcher); the TV movie Gilded Lilys with Blythe Danner; and he was a guest star on ABC’s Body of Proof. He played the lead role in the film Storm up the Sky, which was selected for the Tribeca Film Festival
Set design for On the Spectrum is by John Iacovelli; video design is by Jeffrey Elias Teeter; lighting design is by R. Christopher Stokes; sound design is by Peter Bayne; costume design is by Naila Aladdin Sanders; prop design is by Misty Carlisle; production stage manager is Corey Womack; assistant stage manager is Terri Roberts; and Simon Levy, Deborah Lawlor and Stephen Sachs produce.
Housed in a charming two-story complex, the Fountain is one of the most successful intimate theaters in Los Angeles, providing a nurturing, creative home for multi-ethnic theater and dance artists. The Fountain has won over 200 awards, and is the only intimate theater to win the Ovation Award for Best Production five times. Fountain projects have been seen across the U.S. and internationally. Highlights include In the Red and Brown Water, named “Best in Theater 2012” by the Los Angeles Times; Cyrano, an adaptation of the Rostand classic for hearing and deaf actors, by Stephen Sachs; a six-month run of Bakersfield Mist, also by Sachs, optioned for London and New York; the Off-Broadway run of the Fountain’s world premiere production of Athol Fugard’s Exits and Entrances; and the making of Sachs’ Sweet Nothing in My Ear into a TV movie. The Fountain has been honored with a Certificate of Appreciation from the Los Angeles City Council for “enhancing the cultural life of Los Angeles,” and has been named as the recipient of a special award for its “Excellent Season” in 2012 by the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle.
On the Spectrum opens on Saturday, March 16, with performances Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays @ 8 pm andSundays @ 2 pm through April 28. Preview performances take place March 9-15 on the same schedule. Tickets are$34 (reserved seating), except previews which are $15. On Thursdays and Fridays only, seniors over 65 and students with ID are $25. The Fountain Theatre is located at 5060 Fountain Avenue (at Normandie) in Los Angeles. Secure, on-site parking is available for $5. The Fountain Theatre is air-conditioned and wheelchair accessible. For reservations and information, call 323-663-1525 or go to www.FountainTheatre.com.
production photos by Ed Krieger