Mark Lutwak has a knack for assembling a crew of interns at the Playhouse that are talented, hard working, and nice. It appears from THEORY OF MIND, the latest Off the Hill touring that he’s done it again. And since he has announced his retirement at the end of the season, perhaps everyone has stepped up their game. Of course, Lutwak would down play his involvement with this show; he’s humble and I’m sure would want playwright Ken Lazebnik, director Bridget Leak, sound designer Trey Tatum, and of course the actors to have all the credit. But its his oversight of the program that has allowed consistent creative success.
THEORY OF MIND is as good as anything “theatre for young audiences” I’ve seen. It’s the story of “Bill,” a young man on the autism spectrum, who is receiving treatment and trying to be as “normal” as possible. He is on a date with “Hilo,” a kind-hearted girl who has has a special affection for animals. They are on their way to a concert but a series of events and interactions with a cop, a parking attendance, and even staff (all played by Alex Purcell) builds to some dramatic and ultimately sweet moments. I saw it at the Hyde Park Health Center on a Saturday afternoon with a group of mostly older adults. It was a unique audience in a unique setting; I had a blast.
Christopher Michael Richardson plays “Bill.” Perhaps the ultimate compliment came during the talk back from a woman with a grandson also on the autism spectrum. “He attends a school for autism and you were just like a young man in his class. You were dead on.” Richardson has great likability as an actor and I’ve enjoyed him each time I’ve seen him on stage (ROSES AND THORNS, A CHRISTMAS CAROL). Technically proficient, his portrayal was authentic, funny, and real.
His counterpart, Kelsey Torstveit, gives “Hilo” energy and life. There’s something intense about her, but its buried in this hippie peace and love sweetness that had me on the edge of my seat. The mark of a truly great actress is an ability to engage my empathy mechanism over an issue or event that wouldn’t ordinarily do so. I don’t often care about roadkill; this remarkable young woman had me in tears because she was so dialed into the real emotion of a woman who loves animals more than anything else. Torstveit is a star in the making.
Alex Purcell finds a way to take his three characters and make them all different. He is there to advance the plot and does so by supporting the leads and the story. And when the little old lady in the back of the room asked him if he was single during the talk back, well his genuine reaction was as funny as anything I’ve seen in awhile.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the wonderful stage management of Tracy Hoida; she keeps things running, on time, and is firmly in charge. I arrived a few minutes early, was able to speak with Kristen Schneider, Community Engagement Specialist for the Playhouse in the Park, who is always charming and delightful and got to see just a snippet of the pre-show goings on. Hoida has things under control for sure.
THEORY OF MIND is on the surface a story about autism. In fact, its a story about people – two unique, interesting, and lovely young people just trying to figure out how they fit into the world and they are to interact with others. And its a must see. Given that its free in most of the venues it plays, what’s holding you back?
THEORY OF MIND tours through February 22nd. Click here for the schedule.