On the Spectrum @ Fountain Theatre

Dan Shaked in 'On the Spectrum' at the Fountain Theatre.(Courtesy of Ed Krieger)
Dan Shaked in ‘On the Spectrum’ at the Fountain Theatre.
(Courtesy of Ed Krieger)

Okay, let’s call this one “David and Lisa…oh, and Mom”.

Single, long suffering mom (Jeanie Hackett) struggles in the harsh environ of the Big Apple to keep a roof over her head and that of her “aspie” son Cormac (Dan Shaked).

“Aspie”. The chosen title for those identified with Asperger syndrome or Asperger disorder (AD), an “autism spectrum disorder (ASD) that is characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction, alongside restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior and interests.” (What did the world do before “Wikipedia”?)

Cormac, or “Mac”, falls into the clinical category of “high-functioning autism” or “HFA”, meaning he can engage in the societal demands of the “neurotypical” world as well, or maybe better, than we self-designated “normal” folk. While his mother’s main concern is for him to remain focused on preparing for the upcoming LSAT he intends to take, Mac, being a dutiful son, seeks to contribute financially by plying his skills as a graphic artist on the Internet.

Enter Iris (Virginia Newcomb), who is herself identified by PDD-NOS, or “pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified”. One of the five disorders commonly grouped as being on the “autism spectrum”, hence the title. Iris, though, is not “HFA”. With difficulty in communicating verbally, and subjected to the physical inconvenience of severe stereotypy posturing she has constructed within the confines of her Queen’s apartment, an online sanctuary “Otherworld” reminiscent, at least to me, of the anthropomorphized world of Kenneth Grahame.

But she could use a good graphic artist. (Uh oh! Trouble brewing!)

Going to the theater you come to realize the differences between really bad and really good playwrights; really bad playwrights cause you grief by what they put in their plays, really good ones by what they leave out. Mr. LaZebnik is a really good playwright.

On the Spectrum” is apparently Ken LaZebnik’s third play dealing with the issues and concerns regarding autism. It is a well-crafted piece possessed of both humor and compassion, and the only flaw one can lay before it is that, it is “possessed of both humor and compassion” and that’s about all. Mr. LaZebnik seems to possess a light touch as a writer, and when dealing with topics that easily can plummet into the abyss of melodrama, this is a great advantage. When dealing with the issue of conflict, not so much so.

As staged, the show is a long one-act that for my money closes at the most interesting moment, a moment in which the most heighten potential for dramatic conflict contained in the work is abruptly squandered for an ersatz ending better suited to the Disney animated version of “Mother Courage”.

Whatever faults “On the Spectrum” may or may not have as a play, it exhibits none as a production.

Hackett, Shaked and Newcomb all deliver solid performances that are superbly nuanced and perfectly tuned to the needs of the piece. Newcomb’s role is undeniably the most challenging in that it’s all entirely physical. Just watching her commitment to that physicality in each moment of the play was both exhilarating and exhausting.

The set by John Iacovelli succeeds in its precise blending of artistry and functionality in supporting and serving the material.

Jeff Teeter, as the video designer, and technical director Scott Tuomey are to be acknowledged for layering the production with an extraordinary multi-visual element that manages to be strikingly imaginative while never threatening to overwhelm the show itself.

Credit for all this goes to director Jacqueline Schultz who evidently had the intelligence to recognize the strengths and weaknesses of her material, as well as the skills to utilize that knowledge. This resulted in her taking a small pearl of a show and wrapping it in a fine sheet of silk.

But this is the Fountain Theatre, after all, where quality in production is as expected as fries with a burger. The Fountain Theatre is really a wonderful venue and one of the reasons for that is its café. So come early and go on up and enjoy a cup of tea and slice of carrot cake and let yourself be charmed by the lovely Saya whose name means “happiness” and you can relax before show time knowing you’re at the Fountain Theatre whose name means “damn good shows”.

On the Spectrum

The Fountain Theatre
5060 Fountain Ave.
Los Angeles CA 90029
(Fountain at Normandie)
(323) 663-1525

Performances: March 16-April 28
Thursdays at 8 pm: March 28; April 4, 11, 18, 25
Fridays at 8 pm: March 29; April 5, 12, 19, 26
Saturdays at 8 pm: March 23, 30; April 6, 13, 20, 27
Sundays at 2 pm: March 24, 31; April 7, 14, 21, 28

Reserved seating: $34
Seniors over 65 and students with ID (Thursdays and Fridays only): $25
Previews: $15

Secure, on-site parking: $5