With a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dramaturgy/Dramatic Criticism, Alyssa Dyksterhouse has over 20 years of professional theater experience. She recently returned from the living in the Pacific Northwest where she wrote about arts and culture for Seattle Weekly and Seattle Gay Scene.
Pictured: Justin Tsatsa and Amy Johnson. Photo by Emily Schwartz.
As I sat down to write a review for Interrobang Theatre Project’s Falling, I decided to check Facebook where I read about Julia the newest Muppet on SESAME STREET. She has autistsm. What are the odds that Interrobang could open a play about a family raising an eighteen-year-old on the severe end of the spectrum the same day and this announcement?
Did they plan it?
Okay, more likely a coincidence coinciding with April which is Autism Awareness Month.
In this seventy minutes of constant conflict, we observe the Martin’s struggling with the stresses and snags of caring for Josh (Justin Tsatsa) with each arguing their individual agenda. Patriarch Bill (Nick Freed) anguishes about the overall anxiety in the household while mom Tami (Amy Johnson) wants what is best for her son and their aggrieved adolescent daughter Lisa (Tristin Hall). Soon Grammy Sue (Heidi Katz)—a woman firm in her faith—visits. FALLING explores themes of unconditional love and surrender.
James Yost puts together all the puzzle pieces and under his direction this ensemble provides performances so plausible that I experienced being an interloper in the Martin family’s modest living room while feeling all their feels. I laughed at the power struggle between Tami and Grammy Sue as they keep resetting the table and undoing the other’s work. I experienced Bill’s outrage when he told his mother to pray people stop just praying and take some action.
The entire ensemble nobly navigates immense emotional terrain but none as adeptly as Tsatsa who vocally and physically embodies Josh complete with tactile experiences and emotional outburst which left me wondering if he actually has autism.
Greg Pinsoneault’s set not only invites us into the Martin’s home but intricately details their power dynamics. For example, a whiteboard prominently placed on the living room wall peaked my curiosity. Okay, it annoyed me. “Who does that?” Yet, we learn it serves as an integral item in Josh’s treatment and a demonstration of his wide-ranging dominance of the household. Steph Taylor’s costumes further define each character’s mood placing Lisa and Grammy Sue in bright clothes juxtaposed to Tami’s more muted and casual outfit.
Ultimately, Tami mourns the life she wanted for her son. She surrenders to things beyond her control. I am not a mother—let alone one of a special needs child—but I know the beauty and torment of unconditional love coupled with the ensuing fear of being vulnerable. FALLING is deeper than a play about autism, offering an exploration into family dynamics and the human condition.