Virginia Newcomb and Dan Shaked
“As with all great love stories, there are obstacles,” says Jacqueline Schultz, director of the West Coast premiere of Ken LaZebnik‘s play “On the Spectrum,” now playing to terrific reviews at the Fountain Theatre in Los Angeles. 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 courtship between two young people with autism. “Ken’s play is original, charming and moving.”
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. “Theater is about all of those things that help children learn,” says Schultz. “The art form has a special way of helping autistic children learn because it helps kids discover how to act together with others.”
In LaZebnik’s play, Mac has Asperger’s, and Iris is autistic. Many people on the autism spectrum take pride in their distinctive abilities and “atypical” ways of viewing the world. Mac (Dan Shaked), whose mother Elizabeth (Jeanie Hackett) provided years of mainstreaming and therapy, passes as “typical.” He connects online with Iris (Virginia Newcomb), an activist who proudly champions her autism as a difference, not a disorder. A relationship quickly forms between the two.
“The play demonstrates how technology has allowed the characters to communicate what’s inside, rather than be judged on the outside,” says Schultz.
Dan Shaked and Jeanie Hackett
“Part of the love story is a mother’s love for her son,” says LaZebnik. “His mother has been his guardian and shield, his whole life. The potential of him going off with this girl obviously is hard for her, and it’s hard for him to contemplate leaving her.”
“Iris has an opinion. Elizabeth has an opinion. Mac bridges both of those worlds,” says Schultz. “Ken does a great a job of breaking down the myths about autism and autistic people. They can feel. They can fall in love. They can get actively involved in their own community.”
“I would love it,” LaZebnik says, “if people saw these characters as just two unique human beings who fall in love.”
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.
Schultz has worked as a theater director/educator with learning disabled students for over 12 years. As a professional actress, she was recently seen at the Fountain in the U.S. premiere of Athol Fugard’s “The Blue Iris.”
Ken LaZebnik’s “On the Spectrum” is earning wonderful reviews and is currently running at the Fountain Theatre in Los Angeles through April 28.
Reposted from The Imitated Life.
On the Spectrum Now to April 28 (323) 663-1525 MORE