Gut-wrenching and Compelling Story Telling: LUCY @ Delaware Theatre Company

by Ellen Wilson Dilks

Autism is a developmental disorder that appears in the first 3 years of life, and affects the brain’s normal development of social and communication skills. This is the world that the Delaware Theatre Company is exploring in the area premiere of LUCY by Damien Atkins.

Lucy and Vivian meet with Dr. Morris. (from right) Andrea Green, Ross Beschler, and Kate Eastwood Norris. Photo credit: Matt Urban.

Autism is diagnosed in 1 in every 110 children born today—up from the 1 in 2,500 cited in a study ten years ago. Boys are four times more likely to be affected than girls. And there is much controversy and debate over the cause of the disorder. Mr. Atkins wrote the play as a result of character research he did for a role he was portraying. Throughout the writing process, he constantly consulted with experts and families dealing with autistic children; he wanted to get it right. And he has done an excellent job, creating a solid piece of great storytelling. DTC is the second company to produce the play, following its premiere at the Ensemble Studio Theatre in New York City.

The titular character is a 13-year-old girl being raised by her devoted father, Gavin, somewhere in the western part of the U.S. He has gotten Lucy accepted to a prestigious special school in the East, near her mother’s home. He asks his ex-wife to take Lucy for a year so the girl can get the advanced treatment she needs. Lucy’s mother, Vivian, is a brilliant anthropologist who is totally absorbed in herself and her work; she has no maternal instincts and left her daughter when she was quite young to spend years on a dig in Africa.

Forced into caring for Lucy, Vivian is at a total loss as to what to do; her research assistant, Julia, is able to connect with Lucy instantly, much to Vivian’s surprise. Caring for her daughter brings many of Vivian’s own insecurities and fears to the surface and she starts to crumble. Ever the scientist, Vivian distrusts what Lucy’s therapist is recommending and rather than stick to the highly structured day that her ex-husband mapped out—and the therapist wholly endorses—she starts encouraging Lucy’s “acting out.”

Andrea Green tackles the difficult role of Lucy. In addition to portraying autism accurately, she also serves as the narrator of the piece, taking the audience inside Lucy’s head. Ms. Green is wonderful at these challenging transitions in and out of Lucy’s autistic behaviors. She instantly endears herself to the audience during her speeches directly to us. Then smoothly morphs into a scene with the skill of a seasoned actor. Kate Eastwood Norris is compelling as Vivian, deftly navigating the character’s difficult arc. Initially, Vivian is a bit off-putting, but Ms. Norris endows her with a humor and vulnerability that wins the viewer over. She is not afraid of the darker aspects of Vivian’s character.

Supporting these two are Karen Peakes as Julia (she is lovely as the caring and supportive assistant, and brings an energy to each scene she’s in), Charlie DelMarcelle as Lucy’s dad, Gavin (always a solid and gifted performer, he does not disappoint here; his portrayal of a loving and dedicated father is spot-on) and Ross Beschler as Morris— Lucy’s therapist (he strikes just the right balance between humor and genuine concern for his patient).

Director David Stradley has paced the play wonderfully, allowing the humor and pathos to share the stage. Strong and evocative design work adds much to the production. Alexis Distler’s set shows the frame of a typical suburban home, with Lucy’s therapist’s office sharing the space. It is a fascinating study of angles and connections—a perfect metaphor for the play’s story. Rosemarie McKelvey’s costuming complements each character and helps add to the feel of the story. The lighting design by Joshua Schulman includes an amazing gobo effect that creates Lucy’s African-like drawings on the walls of the stage and the theatre. Add to this Fabian Obisbo’s beautifully lyrical sound design and the viewer is totally drawn into the world of the play.

This is a complex and thought-provoking play that does not wrap everything up in a neat little package for the audience. One is left with many questions at the end, but isn’t that what good theatre should do? Start the conversation?

by Damien Atkins
Directed by David Stradley
January 19 – February 6, 2011
Delaware Theatre Company
200 Water Street
Wilmington, DE 19801

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