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Theater Review: 'On The Spectrum' At The Fountain Theatre

Gillian Miller |
March 25, 2013 | 2:41 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

"On the Spectrum's" subtitle, "Not your (neuro)typical love story" is right—it's not often a love story is told about two people with autism. Ken LaZebnik addresses the often glossed-over issue of what it's like to live with autism in all its forms in his new play, "On The Spectrum," playing at The Fountain Theatre through April 28.  

The play focuses on two young adults who are both "on the spectrum" for autism. Mac (Dan Shaked) is an undergraduate living with his mother in New York City and applying for law school.  He has Aspergers, a high-functioning form of autism. Iris (Virginia Newcomb) runs a fantasy website called "The Other World." She also has autism, but she comes from a family that could not afford the expensive therapies that help austitic children act more "normal." Though she creates a vivid, imaginative online world, she has trouble communicating in real life. Mac's mother (Jeanie Hackett) has done all she can to make sure Mac can lead a normal life. Though he sometimes goes off on tangents, he appears "normal" for the most part. Iris, on the other hand, has embraced her autism—it allows her to experience the world in a completely different way. While people raise funds to "cure autism," she questions their desire to stamp out what makes her unique.  

Though the play addresses an interesting question about how we treat autism in our society, its cultural punch is lessened by its reliance on romantic cliches. Iris and Mac get to know each other online, so that when they meet, they are instantly smitten. It would have been more interesting to see the play progress past the initial "I love you's," but it ended after only one act with all of the problems seemingly solved by the two lovers' adoration for one another. The play starts out by establishing the relationship between Mac and his mother and revealing their financial troubles. With so much emphasis put on this in the beginning, the overly sentimental ending denied much of what the play had set up. 

Despite the play's structural flaws, two things really stand out and make the play worth seeing. The first is the visual effects, which are quite spectacular in enhancing the world of the play.  They especially illuminate Iris's world through the moving illustrations of her steampunk website. At one point, they help the audience to experience the world through Iris's point of view with overwhelming visuals of New York City, loud noises, and bright lights.  

The second is Newcomb's honest portrayal of Iris. She doesn't shy away from the uncomfortable or unflattering, which makes her completely believable as an autistic woman. Underneath the physicality of the role, she has so much life and investment in the relationship that it is hard to tear your eyes away. 

"On the Spectrum" is an interesting portrayal of real people living with autism, and it brings up some thought-provoking questions. Should we really be looking for a "cure" for autism, or should we accept that it is just one more difference between people, and instead use the funds raised to help people with autism learn to navigate the world through their unique perspectives? Though the story lacks some depth, it makes up for it with interesting subject matter and committed storytelling.

Reach Staff Reporter Gillian Miller here; follow her on Twitter here.

"On The Spectrum" is playing at The Fountain Theatre (5060 Fountain Ave, Los Angeles, CA) through April 28, 2013. Tickets are $25-$34. More information can be found at Fountaintheatre.com



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